April at the Ruins


Reviewed by Kaitlin Seeger

April at the Ruins by Lawrence Raab
April at the Ruins by Lawrence Raab, North Adams, Massachusetts: Tupelo Press, 93 pages, $19.95

Spring, a season of renewal and hope: warmth bleeding back into cold, barren earth. Those scarce hints of color slipping back into our lives so easily, so simply—unfurling with the buds, encompassing everything in that blanketing wash of sunlight. It takes a storm to wash away the death, the rot, to wake up the land and urge the feeble grasp of those roots to cling on, to want for more than they know. April at the Ruins captures that glint of life still lingering at the grave. Like the few drops of rain that hit your skin before the downpour, Lawrence Raab calls the senses up to the surface with a resounding clarity, a nostalgia suspended in the present: “the click of a door, / the scent of lilacs, / or the distant barking of a dog.” It is poignant how he can, in three strokes, paint a day in April left to span across the years, blurred into moments as vivid, as all-encompassing, as they are narrowed and indistinct, obscured by the passage of time.

April at the Ruins weaves a spiderweb of stories, of questions and observations overlapping and intertwining, seamlessly tethering together the poems and the reader. Raab’s voice is simple yet lingering, as though each word was tasted and molded on the tongue, edges sharpened to cut deep, curves smoothed to slide down easily. Each is an ode to the days that lag further behind, unable to crest that hill of time alongside us; memories that shrink, fade in the distance, vanish behind that line we can only cross once. The boundary between hope and despair is a tangled knot of emotions and moments, indistinguishable, intimate—it is the contrast of a reflection, the space between a dream and reality.

“So the night / must have been magnificent / in its loneliness”. It is this loneliness—this bittersweet solitude we become most keenly aware of in the presence of those we hold closest—that stalks through the ruins of these poems. We are haunted by what we have in knowing that it will not last. It is the present moment in “Just Now” slipping away: “Look, / you said, turning back / to see what was gone—” April at the Ruins is retrospective in more ways than one; it is not merely a collection of poems, but of stories—of a story we all know as well as we know ourselves:

full of apparently meaningless

digressions that fall into place

in the final chapter, leaving the reader

astonished, and overwhelmed.

There is a masterful precision to the course of these stories, as careful as Mother Nature’s own hand guiding one season’s end to another’s quietly rich beginning. So too does the reader traverse a desolate landscape with hidden glimmers of hope to be found, to be tended to: “and the dawn / a kind of rapture we can’t imagine.”

A modernistic approach to the age-old philosophical question of life and all its kaleidoscopic facets, twisting and turning, splintering light into a mesmerizing show of colors, Raab’s voice carries a whisper of T.S. Eliot’s timeless complexity—like “music from a farther room” drifting in, or how “a little music arrives from far away” there is a hint of the past layered atop the present, as sweet as a song heard from afar. The experience of reading these poems for the first time will remain as pleasant, as wondrous, as it is to call on the very memory of not merely reading them, but truly feeling them—as more than words, as more than a single moment.