We honor the object by giving it our full attention,” Goepfert states as she traces her ancestors and their shaping of both her childhood and its legacy. Many of her memories are our memories: porch swings, penny candy, the crowing of brothers as they win board games. With plainspoken simplicity and a sense of longing tempered by a sharp critical eye, Tapping Roots captures the stillness of the past, one of the realities that makes it so haunting: It doesn't move, but then again, we can't catch it. In these poems she holds her family members long enough for us to see ourselves in their contours.
Sure as Dante’s Commedia traces his journey into the afterlife, so Gail Goepfert’s A Mind on Pain permits passage into the netherworld of pain and its reconstituting reality. Yet this is no allegory. Goepfert’s searing sequence of poems immerses the reader in a battle within—against pain, its deafening noise and all-consuming hunger for attention, alienation from her own body, indeed against fear and despair—as much as in the battle without—against callous and dismissive doctors, against elixirs, nostrums and needles, against intrusion and violation. In language that alternates between razor-sharp description, mordant humor, and piercing lyrical evocation—“The sun hurls itself at me, a fistful of amber”—Goepfert still finds moments of grace: Not cures, but respite in kindness, patience, gentleness, and respect. “My body—a glass harp / tapped and tuned / until it sings.” Indeed, A Mind on Pain chants, croons, and fairly hollers with artistry, troubled beauty, and valiant, resonant humanity. Ralph Hamilton