Dilemma of Navigation by Nicole Cartwright Denison


Melissa Fondakowski


The Sow’s Ear Press, 2002

25 pages


Set against the literal gardening landscape and the figurative feminine forest, Melissa Fondakowski’s 2001 Sow’s Ear Press winning chapbook Impatiens details the longing for independence, the struggle of self-assertion and the fine art of reconciling an innate desire for connections both physical and spiritual.


The collection speaks in evocative language throughout insisting we recognize truth “as those things that happen to someone else” (“Planes That I am in Do Not Crash”). This acknowledgement of the otherness of ourselves and relationship to those both near and far in the geography of our lives serves as a major conceit throughout the work and also allows Fondakowski’s mastery at personalizing allusion to fully awaken senses of the tightroped acceptance and denial of self-identity.


Revealed in varying manners of scientific and theological topography, the course is deftly maneuvered and the title’s irony becomes fully emblematic of the omnipresent dilemma of navigation: the non-existence of the other within reach within the realm, a desire for an awakening of another I, another us:

on her side, she hopes for sleep

as if she’s someone else

love lost like land (“Selfsame”)



I asked about the name. . .

                                               and wondered

how a plant could be impatient (“Windowbox”)



The spiritual precept of a faith in abiding love is also well-traveled terrain throughout the poem such as “Worship”, “Jordan”, “Gethsemane” and “Eve.” In these last two poems the divine’s role is manifested in the speaker’s relationship to the natural and physical worlds, serving as a legend to the map of sexual exploration and actualization, of the declaration of our bodies and our longing as something wholly given as gifts, and curses:

You’re best in seersucker and under me,

the firmament our tarpaulin n the garden (“Gethsemane”)



. . . in the dream hours after we part


I become Adam, alluvial and nascent, waking

under a firmament certain with birds.



I care nothing for save to leave.

This is the malady in Eve.(“Eve”)



A sibling theme throughout the work is exploring the obverse of non-existence, or self-negation: that of an embracing which exists solely in the tangible world, and the aftermath when our tenuous hold on the perceived vanishes. The arc of poems echo the idea in the language of ebb & flow, of  “pulling back” and with wrenching emphasis on distance. With the poems “Windowbox” and “The Fattest Tree, Love” the exploration of distance’s impact on the I’s proximity are explored to detail those memories, thoughts which comprise our deepest senses of connection and belonging:

                        Her work was slow and deliberate;

she would not let me practice:

I could only watch listening

to her recite the planting instructions

as if I was to store them up. . .” (“Windowbox”)




Drawing from such varied inspirations as the ubiquitous yellowed Polaroid to Tomas Transtromer, Fondakowski’s poems enhance the conceit of the quiet that is almost said, almost shared in yearning for the true self’s emergence. Redolent with stylized reference, amid an undercurrent of approach-avoidance-acceptance, Impatiens works as an alchemy of nature and nurture: those environmental and biological factors that converge with eerie prescience precipitating the blooming.




Nicole Cartwright Denison is the author of Recovering the Body (dancing girl press, 2007) and lives on a trout farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. Her work is forthcoming in Blue Fifth Review and WOMB and has appeared in ECTOPLASMIC NECROPOLIS, tattoo highway, Poetry Midwest, Alba, eight-octaves, elimae, The CommonLine Project, reimagining place: ecotone’s blog and others.


Comments are closed.