cover image Civilian Histories

Civilian Histories

Lee Upton. University of Georgia Press, $16.95 (104pp) ISBN 978-0-8203-2185-1

The most prominent historical figure in these Civilian Histories is Mary Rowlandson, whose story of Indian captivity--coupled with the pleasures of food--inaugurates the American obsession with the boundaries between domestic intimacy and public knowledge. While the terrain of intimate behavior her is often familiar, its texture is not; a dissociation infiltrates all of Upton's rituals, to the point where the book begins in the midst of disappointment: ""And eyes not lulled as I wanted them to be."" (Upton is the author of The Muse of Abandonment, a study of Russell Edson, Louise Gl ck, James Tate, Jean Valentine and Charles Wright.) In ""Garden Solstice,"" for instance, ""In the glint of needle light,/ of grass seeds, dew flecks,/ a friend is throwing her voice/ while far inside our grainy heaven/ a butcher's apron/ ripples its dried blood in the wind."" The book is in fact stuffed with food and flavor: oysters, sugar, berries, eggs, basil, spearmint. But far from offering up a neo-magical-realist feast, Upton, whose No Mercy (1989) was chosen for the National Poetry Series, uses oral imagery to enrich the odd appetizers of language she serves with cautious passion: ""Sins get weepier, phlegmier, looser./ He's the trunk of the family tree// and each topmost branch,/ each living shade above him/ bears its fruits."" The 70-odd page-length lyrics and five slightly longer serial poems in this seventh collection branch out with a heat of intimacy that is sensual, remarkable and pointed. (Apr.)