When I first read the title Particular Scandals (Cascade Books, Poiema Poetry Series, 2013), I envisioned steamy revelations of past delinquencies, but when I finally opened the book, I found that these scandals refer to the mystical phenomena we encounter every day, the greatest scandal being that we would praise “nothing / for creating beauty / as particular as” hyacinth, huckleberry, and “Hopkins’ beloved bluebell.”
In this way Julie L. Moore wraps up her version of the age-old argument on the goodness, and existence, of God. Her title poem runs through ten ordered sections, each striving within and against the harshness of life for a spiritual peace. For it’s not all bluebells. Moore unwinds her sense of suffering onto the page so fluently that as I read, I felt that I, and everyone else in the world, had attempted to write this exact poem, but with different words, and without such a lovely ending.
Throughout her book, Moore focuses on the beauty we can find if we look, and the pain we feel regardless of our search. “Voice” tells the story of a mother’s loss; “Intersection” carries us along with the organs of a suddenly deceased 20-year-old as they are dispersed across Ohio. These poems focus on a particular pain, “Lump” a particular fear. In “Confession,” we see Mark 5:24-34 with new eyes. We watch the bleeding woman heal in her “scandalous and particular / faith.” This book focuses on the particulars while it slides across the enormities of space and time.
One of my favorite poems in this collection, “Buck,” highlights what Moore does so well—take our dilated eyes, flash images of beauty in front of them, and before the pupils have had a chance to shrink in the light, blind them with an image of blood:
The wild has come to your door:
A buck with a rack elaborate as a labyrinth
curving into dead ends.
Approaching the road you drive on.
Considering, perhaps, the lilies of the field
across the way. Threatening
to bolt, hurl his heavy heart
onto your hood.
Perhaps this poem stood out to me because I avoid deer every day on the winding roads in my small town near the coast of Central California. I know what they look like once they have been hit: bloated, vultures. And then bloated vultures. (Moore covers this consumption process in her poem “Denouement.”) Moore’s rough topics are complemented by her complete disregard for “proper” grammar. As we see in “Buck,” incomplete sentences lead to a comfortable ambiguity that allows you to question where the thoughts and actions of the buck end, and the driver’s begin.
“Window” provides the book with a fitting end. As we become entangled in the robin, which is “Caught in the slim cell between pane and screen” (which sounds strangely similar to pain and scream), we feel its fear. We hold our breath as Moore and her husband consider their options—how to set the robin free. Finally, they decide to remove the screen:
releasing the bird into the morning air,
[we] followed it, stretching
our bodies through the window
that seemed, in the mercy
of the moment, to go on opening
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