Stunningly Beautiful Poems: David Atkinson on Sarah McKinstry-Brown’s Cradling Monsoons

Cradling Monsoons, Sarah McKinstry-Brown, Blue Light Press, 2010

When I say that the poems in Sarah McKinstry-Brown’s newest collection, Cradling Monsoons, are stunning, I mean that quite literally.  I use stunning in its incarnation as a verb as opposed to its more exaggerative adjectival form.  These richly introspective, elegantly velveteen poems are filled with moments that took my breath away. Right near the beginning, in the poem “Origami Girl,” I ran across the lines:

They say you’re an origami girl,

Guided by men’s strange hands.

Yesterday, you were a fish,

Today, you resemble a rose.  Tomorrow

Your mother will knock on the bathroom door

to find you blue

in the face.

I shook my head and stared at the lines I’d just read, marveling.  It took me an effort to move myself away from that poem.  Then I made sure that no one would disturb me in my quiet reading place, wanting nothing that could possibly interrupt, and read the rest of the collection. I blocked off the rest of the world as I read, because the moments like the one above kept happening.  In “Flowering” I found:

Mother sits across from me,

and the silence we share is tender,

falling off the bone.

In the cellar, her heart

sulks green, hard,

inaudible, her

aorta stumped

by my flowering.

I was a bulb

meant for quicksand, the vacuum

in the doctor’s precise hand,

not the wetlands of her womb.

and waiting for me in “The Other Side of the Story” were the words:

There are days I want to sail

into a new area code in a baby-blue Chevy,

windows rolled down, the wind and Lucinda Williams

blowing through my hair.  When that dream stales,

I cross the Atlantic, find myself lounging naked, smoking

on a balcony in Prague.  Trouble is

I’m getting old enough to know

that the balcony and the Chevy

don’t exist.

I encountered image after image that knocked the wind out of me.  Quite literally, the poems stunned me.  Over and over.  It felt something like delightful sucker punches to the solar plexus. These moments stunned me because at the same time that they were softly reminiscent, I was surprised by emotionally jagged edges.  The origami girl who yesterday was a fish and today resembles a rose will be found blue in the face tomorrow when her mother knocks at the bathroom door.  The slipping back in forth in the poems between pleasure and pain seems to mirror the way that life is almost never purely light or purely dark, but rather a blend of the two that makes us have to drink the poison in order to also get the nourishment.  The poems surprised me in the genuineness of the emotion I felt while reading, the way that the lines turned in directions I did not expect but in reflection could not picture going any other way.

It is true that I found approachable the apparent simplicity of these poems which center on daily life topics such as family connections (both in the faded past and the more gritty present), freedom dreams, loss, motherhood, and so on.  After all, the poems came at me directly, not hiding behind excessive ornamentation or unnecessary complexity.  However, that is not to say that these poems did not also attack.  Once they drew me in, the poems really worked me over before turning me loose again.  That unhurried velveteen elegance lulled me unsuspecting, and then proceeded to set me aflame.

I greatly enjoyed reading Cradling Monsoons.  I think it is a compelling beautiful collection from a poet whom I now expect to deliver even more marvelous wonders the future.


David S. Atkinson is a Nebraska-born writer currently living in Denver. He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska as well as a BA in English, a BS in computer science, and a JD. His stories, book reviews, and articles have appeared in Fine Lines, Gently Read Literature, The Nebraska Lawyer, and 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. The website dedicated to his writing is