“The wind comes through from that teeming world,” Talvikki Ansel writes in “Glaze,” a poem that appears part-way through her luminous, clear-eyed third collection Somewhere in Space, winner of the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. The teeming world comes through again and again in Ansel’s poems, which are filled with the intermingling of the natural and the human-made, the overlapping of worlds which are never, in Ansel’s view, separate or separable.
“Glaze” begins with an everyday act of repair, as Ansel’s speaker and the “you” who appears in many of the poems fix a bedroom window’s pane: “broken corner/the squirrel stuck its head through/before it leaped to the apple’s trunk.” But even as the speaker works to divide inside from out, she’s aware of the myriad beings and things dwelling in the dark beyond: wet lilacs, frosted shingles, grass blades, a restless dog. “To not keep it at bay,” is her intention, as she turns both toward the window she’s fixing and the wind that presses through its brokenness, “carrying the mosquitoes and salt.”
The world of Somewhere in Space is one of ocean and birds, moths, feral cats, and trees, a world that feels perfectly suited to the between-ness of Ansel’s poems, a meeting place of human and not, water and land, inner and outer. Past, present, and future wash into each other here, too, as in “Leap Years,” the book’s first poem, spoken by a palm-sized teak hippo “in a country of snow”:
Arrows in my blood,
became garden furniture,
a table someone places
a wet glass on
to contemplate walnuts,
silver nutcrackers in hand
like the crocodile’s jaw.
(there were flowers, there were
seeds) will become
the decks of a boat
exposed to sun
and molecules of light,
will travel to secluded coves,
nights, planets, the milky way.
The poem weaves seamlessly between lives: from the hippo’s teak “ancestors” to the unnamed but still very specific person “contemplating walnuts” to the descendants, born of the tree’s flowers and seeds, destined to become the deck of a boat, to travel through day and night under an immensity of stars. Each being and thing that inhabits “Leap Years” is particularly itself, and at the same time the poem makes their interconnectedness, their oneness, palpably real. Ansel’s descriptive powers also reside in an “in between” place: she gives just enough detail to welcome readers into the poems, where they can find a spacious freedom.