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Poems of atmosphere

‘On a Windless Night,’ Natalli Amato, Ra Press, 2019

Sackets Harbor native Natalli Amato has written a collection of poems, many of which harken back to childhood and adolescent times spent at play in the outside world in the Adirondack settings she called home.

The poems are mostly descriptions of these experiences — rich in the sounds of summer, scents of the kitchen, the kind of details that surprisingly stick with us all from long ago. In “An August Night in the North Country,” “Bullfrogs belt their baritone blues.” In “Remembering Thompson Park,” “Lavender stalls the darkness …” From “This is not a death poem”: “… Hoffman hot dogs on a charcoal grill … the sweet scent of gasoline on an open lake …”

But sometimes the poems reach toward something more transcendent. Here is the entirety of “The Dandelion,” which considers how all things change and disappear, and we are lesser for not noticing:

When I was no longer looking

yellow florets grayed, leaving

a porous bauble in place

and just like all beauty

I failed to recognize in time,

it dispersed with no more than a child’s breath —

slowly, gliding away.

Often it is youth that seems to have slipped away in these poems of memory. The narrator is half-enjoying and half-grieving, it seems, these old moments that somehow soaked her every sense. Certainly the poems that invoke her parents, grandparents, and old friends or lovers embody this mix of gratitude and sadness. In “When I Am Shucking Corn,” she is in the company of her grandfather, noting his aging hands, wishing for more time together at this mundane task. In “My Mother Never Taught Me How to Clean,” the narrator invokes cherished times with her mother, and illustrates all her mother did teach her about beauty and joy.

The volume includes an introduction, wholly unnecessary, as the poems themselves do the work of telling what, where, and why. But the introduction is a nice prose reflection in itself. Amato writes to those who shared her same childhood stomping grounds, “… our memories are entangled in the same geography.” And to the rest of us, she extends the hope that we will recognize something of our own story in her poems; that we will find in them” a red pushpin saying: ‘Here. Here is something small, but important.'”

Here is a nice poem in its entirety that may capture the entire collection’s spirit, “Frog Catching”:

Each time I discover a true thing about myself

it becomes a frog leaping from my cupped hands

returning to the reeds having learned what a net is

and how to avoid one.

Then there is the girl not yet taller than the cattails

traipsing between swamp and forest

swinging her butterfly net through the air

happily catching nothing.