Book Review (Poetry): Love Comes First, by Erica Jong

Love Comes First, by Erica Jong

It’s the end of the year and surprisingly, I still have a handful of book reviews to post (as well as to write and post, but we won’t go there). One of them is Erica Jong’s poetry collection, Love Comes First.

From the book jacket:
Here is Erica Jong’s first book of all-new poems in more than a decade. Known and beloved for Fear of Flying and her many other books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, Jong expounds on the most eternal, universal topic of all: love. Using brilliant imagery and intense metaphorical insights to paint vivid pictures of love, and all that comes with it—the heights of elation, the depths of sorrow—she covers every inch of the spectrum with her vibrant and insightful words.

I’m a bit chagrined to admit this is the first of Erica Jong’s work that I’ve read. I read this in July, so the details are a bit fuzzy now, but I remember liking the selection of poems in this collection. Here are three selections – one on a favorite food, on people who are no longer here, and on the death of a beloved horse. (Mom F., that one is included here in this blog post especially for you.)

All objects of love in their own right.

Risotto
The integrity of
the single grain of rice
sun and water
fused in a starchy cup
to be filled up
with the essences
of our lives,
the rich brown broth
infused with saffron,
garlanded by
tidbits of porcini
more precious
than platinum
or gold.

I stand here
endlessly stirring
the ingredients of our lives,
watching the rice expand,
lost its translucency
and become
a palimpsest
of fused flavors.

Oh, leftover life
in the sizzling skillet!
Stir, stir, stir
until you have concocted
that ecstatic paste,
harbinger of heaven,
manna of Milano –

risotto!

Speaking with the Dead
Speaking with the dead,

I try to hear them
instead of my perpetual monologue.

What have you learned?
I ask.
And they reply:
That we are leaves in a storm,
salt dissolved in the sea,
that a year reduces us
to our irreducible elements
which are speechless in the old way
but full of the sound
an earthworm makes, burrowing,
or a bird falling out of the sky.

No – don’t mourn for us in the new form
which admits no mourning.
Mourn for yourselves
and your unlived lives,
still full of questions.

Language, while you possess it,
can heal you.
Take this salve, this balm,
this unguent
with our blessings of silence.

Elegy for Pegasus
(On the Death of Barbaro)

Swift knew about horses,
that they are
more rational than we,
that they stand
on their strong, slender legs
like a good argument,
that they are
beautiful in flight,
beautiful at rest,
beautiful of face and form,
that we grieve for them
as for our best selves,
that we love them
not as pets but as gods,
that when we race them
we are racing ourselves,
that none of our betting
and borrowing
can sully
their nobility.

They prance,
they fly
and we cannot.

Oh, winged horse
of poetry,
lift me
to the perfection
of Barbaro
with his fragile legs,
let me fly
through the clouds
on his back –
racing to that
green meadow
where horses and humans
speak like equals.