The Mythic, The Individual and The Personal: Scott Owens on Linda Annas Ferguson’s Dirt Sandwich

Dirt Sandwich, Linda Annas Ferguson, Press 53

For poets, every word is a first word, still full of the power and freshness of creation as they struggle without the tools of logic or reason to “put it right.” In her poem “Breech Birth,” Linda Annas Ferguson captures that sense of urgent discovery in the lines, “I had a hard time getting the beginning right, /…no measure / for what is true…/ an abrupt breath rushing / into me…filling / my body with a sudden urge to cry.” She repeats the sentiment in “The First Word,” a poem about Adam’s love of words:

He strained to fill his tongue with every thought,
unable to identify the pleasure, raw
with newness and power, mouth parting–
their genesis and tone feeling true.

Such is the reverie of Ferguson’s fifth collection of poetry, Dirt Sandwich, newly out from Press 53. In one poem after another in this collection, Ferguson embraces (a frequently repeated word in these poems) the power of words as a means of embracing life. In “Genesis,” we hear again of the vitality of language for Adam:

Words lived in his bones,
touched his tongue, still wild,
a slow burning freedom
inside every sound.

How he longed for more words
to love, thought they could save
him from the wet falling sky,
from red flaming sunsets,
from all that hadn’t come yet.

Whether it is Adam speaking or a woman reflecting on her own audacity in the act of embracing language and all its potential as a child, the theme of language as a tool of exploration and knowledge is the same, as in these lines from “Innocence:”

When I was three, I could write
my name, scrawled it on doors,
walls, furniture, floors.

When Mama took my crayons,
I fingered it in the cold sweat
of windowpanes, paused to dot
the “I,” an eyehole to the moon.


I can hear my mother’s “Don’t–

touch,” as I poked
at splintering fissures of frost
on the other side of the window–

and all that enchanted me
about the broken.

As these last lines suggest, the poet’s love of the world is not limited to all that we normally think of as good. Rather, she has a more even-handed curiosity about and appreciation of all experience, all that life has to offer, all that living uncovers. Seamlessly, the next poem, “Topless Dancer,” begins her stubborn exploration of the forbidden and the tragic:

She embraces her own body,
cups a glitter-laden breast,
a golden moon. Dance
is the way she speaks,
embodies what she can’t say.

Such juxtaposition of the mythic, the individual and the personal from one poem to the next, or even within the same poem, is characteristic of the collection and illustrates the correctness of Jung’s concept of archetypes and the reason Confessionalism still works in poetry. This practice of relating the individual to the mythic, the personal to the universal as a means of deepening one’s experience of life, granting greater meaning to the seemingly insignificant details of our days, and revealing the still-relevant humanity behind the sometimes all-too-distant stories that represent us as a species is again made clear in “Rainbows Are Real:”

Once I saw a rainbow while flying,
looking down from the sky, not an arc,
but a complete circle, the plane’s silhouette
in the center. Pilots call it a “glory.”

I wonder if this was the way one first appeared
to God, His magnified shadow hovering
over muddy land and multitudes of dead bodies.

And so it continues throughout the book, each poem teaching us to reach deeper into the joys, the sorrows, and the mere details of life to find meaning, to understand that pressed between birth and death is the stuff of life “alive with dying” (“The Origin of Entropy”), the stuff of our very own dirt sandwich and to remember, in the words of poet Galway Kinnell ,that there is “still time, / for one who can groan / to sing, / for one who can sing to be healed.” It is a story everyone knows but few pause to contemplate. Thank you, Linda Annas Ferguson, for helping us be aware that we live.