Pearly Everlasting: Poems

Pearly Everlasting: Poems

by Thomas Reiter


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In Pearly Everlasting, Thomas Reiter crafts authentic lives, both autobiographical and fictional, historical and contemporary, across a wide range of locales, maintaining a steady focus on the lore of occupations while revealing the speakers’ crucial connection to the natural world. These poems come in earthtones—the colors of strenuous labor; dried flowers from a midwestern prairie; a centuries-old bone newly uncovered; the surf and sky, gold and coral deposits, of the West Indies; the pure soul of a freshly thawed stream; and pepperbush, Indian pipes, yellow gorse, anemones, pearly everlasting, spoken as lovingly as children’s names.

Through a rich mix of lyrical and narrative forms, Reiter honors hard livelihoods that demand concentration of mind and muscle—Oregon Trail pioneers, farmers, railroad workers, natives and early colonists in the Caribbean, coal miners: “Where else would boys from slagtip valleys / go but into the mines of Wales?” The physicality and technique honed by seasoned whalers, however, contrast with the younger generation’s skills: “Our sons all work in tourist hotels. / Tell me where is the memory in that.”

Memory and the past, real or imagined, are palpable in Reiter’s verse and often align in a kind of double exposure with the present. “At his window in the Stonehill Home / my grandfather invites me to watch / the prairie horizon, looking past / wheat fields and silos to where / once again it’s 1887 / and a man is trampled unyoking oxen.” And resonating through the poems are botanical details, gritty and convincing, never ready-made or sentimental. In Pearly Everlasting, flora can be as close and important as family members, with a long-distance reach in emotion and significance: “My mind fills with rootings, annuals / and perennials, their stems moving / through furniture, tools, utensils, / their blossoms crowding under sailcloth / so I can hardly breathe / or cry out, I am Esther Pennell, / or see the Trail happening before me / in its penitence of yokes.”

For Reiter as well as his poems’ personae, self-awareness becomes a matter of discovery, passion, and a finely wrought wisdom: “If a riverbed over time / changes by oxbow and undercut, / where am I now? . . . / My weight is nothing. I’m here / for the time the river gives me.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807125434
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publication date: 02/01/2000
Pages: 73
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Thomas Reiter has published two previous books of poetry, River Route and Crossovers. A native of Dubuque, Iowa, he is Wayne D. McMurray Professor of Humanities at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

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