River Time Review by Ellen McNeal

River Time, a collection of poems by Michael Jennings, invites the reader’s journey through time and place. To Texas, Iran, to Upstate New York State, Jennings’ present home. These poems are all about place, about spiritual place, emotional place and the physical, places clear and obscure, places remembered or dreamed.

“Alma’s House” invites the reader to come in, to enter a childhood place of comfort and mystery, a place of poor southern comfort and lessons taught, a perception of danger

…down that rutted dirt road
beyond Alma’s house that seemed to go nowhere
but into weeds and more collapsing shacks
and maybe some swampland nobody wanted.

Jennings takes us along to the Alamo, the woods in East Texas, introduces us to “Bad Men Of The Old West” and to heroes Bowie and Crockett, Austin, Sam Houston. He takes us to the place of “Ceremony,” Crazy Horse, and “Black Elk,” whose own place ultimately failed them. From “Black Elk”:

So much Spirit eradicated in 50 years.
So much Sorrow.
So little space to be alone with the alone.
So little time to walk in the sun.

The reader is there…in time and place and in spirit, sorrow shared.

And then, the lovely ”River Time” where “no one comes back./ No one steps twice in the same body.” Here, the poet is all about light; he ends this poem with “I am nothing but light.”

In the extended piece, “Winter Light,” Jennings begins with “He was the only pale winter light/ listening. He was old.” And we hear sound creating place. A chime, “voices glancing off stone muffled in the tall air,/ officious whisperers…”

Oneidas tell their stories. Jennings tells of a “place of exact thoughtlessness/ stirred by a single tremulous note…”

And finally, “crows arguing with evening.” How masterful the creation of place, sound a contributing element. Sound and light and place urging the reader to begin again, to find all that’s intended in this remarkable, gorgeous collection.

Ellen McNeal