Reviewed by Micah Ling
It’s difficult to put the wonders in Paula Carter's No Relation (Black Lawrence, 2017) into boxes. They’re poems and stories and essays and moments. Maybe they’re boxes themselves: each one containing empathy and nostalgia and insight and understanding. So much happens when lives converge. These boxes are very personal and specific, but universal, too. Small and enormous. And they fit together; or, they belong in the same house. This could be a film: all of it stark and clear and real. There’s a cast of characters you can’t help but get attached to. The plot progresses over two acts, and by the end, you wish it wasn’t the end. One of the boxes, “The Women in the Family,” has a lot in it about something bigger going on, and to explain that bigger thing, this, with so many nice sounds:
“I read this essay once, about how a hummingbird’s heart is so tiny. It can beat up to 1,260 times per minute. The heart aflutter. And then there is the whale, whose heart is like a room. A closet maybe. Maybe just the size of the attic under the eaves in the Old Country House. Yes, probably about that size for all the stuff tucked away there. My tiny bird heart had been clipping along and then I was standing in it.”
There are definitions here: of exactly what it means to know complicated things. To love in complicated ways. There’s a line in one of the later boxes, “Strange how after all that time, someone can still surprise you.” The same is true for this collection. Just when you feel like you know all that a box can do, an entirely new kind of box is introduced: more of an origami box—one that annotates and footnotes, and rethinks. This entire collection of boxes is really a series of gifts, worth unpacking over and over.
Micah Ling is the author of Flashes of Life. She teaches in the English department at a community college in northern Colorado, and is the assistant poetry editor for Barrelhouse.