Mustard Seeds and Marigolds

Reading good poetry is like the first spring sowing. The poems slip off the page like marigold seeds from a fresh packet to your palm. Only the Raw Hands Are Heaven, Naomi Thiers' first book of poems, is a well-crafted collection that quickly takes root in the mind.

In the first section, titled "The Other Side," we travel from "Abandoned Prison, Leon, Nicaragua," where the voices of the crucified still shout out, to "Neighborhood Meeting," where "[w]e moved for two hours down the hard row/houses set so close girls hear each/other bleed." Thiers hands back to us our own lives crafted into art. She has walked, as a North American, the dusty roads around Esteli, Nicaragua. She has taught English to Salvadoran refugees. She lives in the neighborhoods where "Boards sealed the mouth of the no-color house/that raised invisible children" ("No-Color"). The sounds, smells, laughter, and tension of this living are tangible in her writing.

The second section is titled "Red Envelope," referring to the Chinese tradition of giving red envelopes filled with money on New Year's as a sign of good luck. Here we meet people who do not seem so lucky.

In "Recruits In Flight," Thiers describes young men heading off to boot camp: "They laugh,/their scalps white as crushed corn....The jowled/old hands who plucked them know a head half-flayed/is theirs." In "Ongoing Prayer" we visit a friend going down with AIDS. The red envelopes here are the poems themselves, given as good luck to those for whom simple beauties, freedom, and a quiet place to rest are rare commodities.

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Sojourners Magazine December 1992
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