Poetry. Native American Studies. California Interest. Many of the poems in this collection are inspired by stories told by Ascension Solorsano de Cervantes, a descendant of indigenous people in what became California, and the last fluent native speaker of the Mutsun language. This sets the tone for Charlotte Muse's poetry, taking the form of a literary expedition, at times anthropological, at others anthropomorphic, through many lives, many times, historical past and personal past, bodies human and animal, flesh and spirit—so much layered in these pages. Her opening poem, "Why You're Afraid of the Road" answers that it might be the impulse to leave the world—"what if you just drove off the edge / because you were tired of all / curves and wanted to lie on air?" This thought is echoed in the title poem, forgiving the river even as it carries her away, "giving up my own motion... / Already I'm dissolving in the world." Writing of "Last Days," she imagines the earth opening to disgorge the souls of the dead, so many that one walks through them like a projection: "there's no sensation, but there's a shadow on you, / and for a moment, a face replaces / your face." If this sounds morbid, it's not—merely another way of seeing the world. And yet another way is through animals, beginning with the image of an owl painted on a cave wall thirty thousand years ago, left in darkness, perspective frozen in stone: "Doesn't everything want to take in more of the world?," she asks, for the owl and for us.
Later, writing of a living owl flying over a mountain lake, she longs to see with the bird's eyes: "I'll watch until mine, too, see wide / all the way to the other side." The other side of life, that is. She finds this gift in animals, many of which appear here, snakes and rats and pigs and bees. "Whatever a fish wants to do / takes the whole fish" she observes—such concise advice for living. Mourning the dead bodies of frogs dissected in biology classrooms occasions a plea for forgiveness from all the world: "Please. Don't go. / We want you back. / We see now what we've broken. / We didn't mean to break it / break it break it. We didn't / mean to break it." Still, she writes of hope that we can learn from such experiences: "This poem says Don't worry. / You're the one whose heart was broken or awakened. / Who knows the story better than you?" The closing poem describes a photograph of a lost world, of Europe in 1909, a watch "always ticking closer to Sarajevo and the great war and the war after that and / the ends of so many worlds." Like Solorsano, Muse writes of, and from, the ends of worlds—but perhaps, also, the possibilities of new ones.
Charlotte Muse received both her MA and her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, where she has taught Creative Writng and Poetry Writing. She also taught for some years as Instructor in Poetry for UC Berkeley Extension, for the Life-lines Project for cancer patients and their caregivers, the Foothill Summer Youth College, the Stanford Upward Bound Program, and for many other organizations. Among her awards are: the Allen Ginsberg Award, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, the Yeats Society of New York's Poetry Award, two Atlanta Review International Publication Awards, and awards in the Joy Harjo Poetry competition, the Foley Prize, and Ireland's Feile Filiochta, as well as the short list for England's 2013 Bridport Prize. Her work has been published in magazines and anthologies. She lives, writes, and teaches private workshops in Menlo Park, CA, where she likes to sit at the bottom of a nearby dry creek and stare off into space.Author City: MENLO PARK, CA USA