Frost in the Low Areas by Karen Skofield
Zone 3 Press, 2013; 77 pp
Reviewed by Robert Torres
Frost in the Low Areas by Karen Skolfield is, first and foremost, an aurally solid collection. It blends oft-comic surrealism with dialogues on death in the domestic setting, reminiscent of A.E. Stallings' Hapax, sans the closed-form.
Skolfield wields an awareness for words so ingenious that it's hard to keep yourself from reading them aloud.
I'd never slept with him. But this
is about the fan, the green fan
that I hid under blankets in the back
of my lover's gigantic truck, in the time before
SUVs when trucks were functional and ugly.
So reads "Ode to the Fan," one of many poems where Skolfield hides the fear of death (or worse) in places she should be able to find comfort. Skolfield lets fall another veil in "Cherries," where she more directly explains:
the season of cherries. It was the one thing
she was allowed to hate about him,
openly question. She knew,
she must have known, that he
had raped at least one niece,
granddaughters, the daughters of visiting
missionaries returned from the field.
She said nothing, for years,
kept silent about what she'd seen and been told.
In "Ode to the Fan" and "Cherries," Skolfield focuses on the tangible items—the fan, the cherries—and how they provide emotional shields. In a brilliant juxtaposition, "Cherries" is followed by "Scattering," a poem which uses a common object—a shattered cooking utensil—as a bridge toward explaining a parents irrational fear for her children. "They're little and do not know what Dennis/ and I know; this house is no longer safe./ And by extension: the world is covered in glass." In "Scattering," Skolfield's façade breaks with the glass, exposing the fears that live not in one home or another but inside of herself.
Skolfield cuts aptly to the bone in many of these poems, but Frost in the Low Areas is not without comedy or absurdism. "Hala Kahiki" begins:
Overnight, there were pineapples.
The zinnias replaced by pineapples.
Instead of wheat: pineapples. Kentucky
blue grass: you get the idea.
Try saying "pineapples" that many times without laughing or questioning the value of your life on earth. This poem slips from one scene to the next, like the loosely stitched moments of a dream, with the only thread being pineapples and more pineapples. Skolfield is less overt in her questioning here, letting the pineapples speak for themselves.