Her Vena Amoris by Carol Berg
Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013
Review by Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Editor
Carol Berg’s newest chapbook, Her Vena Amoris, goes after all the yearning, resentment, risk, confusion, frustration, and powerful love it takes to be a woman and a wife. Its organization lays it out for us beautifully: Part I contains all Woman poems, Part II is a single poem, “To the Word Wife,” and Part III is all Wife poems. The “word” poem is a good bridge, or, to use a central image from the book, a crucial vein, carrying life’s blood between sections—blue blood that turns red exposed to air!
One of my favorite poems in this book, an exciting and dangerous poem, is “The Wife in Desiring Another.” It begins:
Everything about you hurts my vena amoris,
vein running from my ring finger to my heart.
You see the moral dilemma there, feel the pulsing passion. Here is the book’s title, defined. There’s rippling life all through this short poem. “The silver fish / in your hands are nibbling the coral edges of my resistance.” Next, the “coral edges” seem to transform into fabric:
I have locked down the wet hem of my skirt
yet still I feel you tugging the fragile cotton threads.
Held inside my ribcage, your name shatters my breath.
I’m interested in the shifts of point of view in these poems. Sometimes Woman or Wife is a “she.” Sometimes, an “I.” Is it all part of an identity balancing act? In the book’s title, it is “her vena amoris.” In the poem, it is “my vena amoris.” Even the moon, as a woman symbol, shifts into the conditional: “The moon would taste of moral dilemmas and chicken broth.” Exactly!
A repeating image in the book is wings—winged insects, geese, goldfinches, robins, jays, and chickadees flit and fly through the pages. “Frantic birds.” There’s an airport. The need for flight. The interior of the book is projected by its exterior. This is one of Red Bird Chapbooks’ beautiful creations, with a beetle wing on its front cover, marked by a red vein; it is a fringed wing, appearing woven. The “wet hem” and “coral edges” come to mind. The back cover shows a full set of insect wings, overlaid with one of the poems, “The Woman Wants to Borrow the Wings.” Such care and attention this publisher gives to its poets!
As I read and re-read Her Vena Amoris here in the new cool of September, I’ve not forgotten the recent heavy heat of August, so “The Woman as Lethargy” rings a deep bell in me.
I am humidity’s wife—ninety
four degrees and no breeze.
I am his supine. I am his heavy
petaled lupine fall over.
The slow lines have extra space between them, as if they can’t get around any faster in the heat. There’s internal rhyme—“degrees” and “breeze.” There’s lazy eye rhyme/word play—“supine” and “lupine.” And gorgeous, playful, languid language:
I am his lentissimo. I am his windless
sloop. I am his slot machine. No
spin. I am his letdown. I am beyond
his leniency. I am this close to lunacy.
As you can see, these poems are funny and sad and wonderful. Reading them, you may discover your vena amoris.
You can sample more poems from the book in Carol Berg’s solo poetry feature here at Escape Into Life. Pursue the book itself and more about Carol Berg at the links below.