LOOKING FOR BUDDHA IN THE BARBED-WIRE GARDEN gets better as one reads more of it. The poems toward the end of the book, especially, are memorable, including a long poem about the poet’s mother that is a tour de force of mixing past and present voices. “From, Received By, Acted upon, in Time: A Text and Meditation” is also excellent and highlights the poet’s greatest strength, as evidenced by this volume: her ability to present the interplay of perception and experience, and how perception lags behind but has the last word.
The poet’s special kindness is toward the follies of innocence. In “Dialogue with the Dogcatcher,” a boy tells his mother that he is going to quit school and be a dogcatcher. When she tells him that it is “a terrible job” because he will have to kill the unclaimed dogs, he replies that he will take them home to live on a big ranch. That night, she dreams of that ranch and of her son, grown up and happy there. In “Nineteen Thirty-six,” the poet allows her mother, in quoted letters, to show how naive she was then, living in Germany and seeing all the parades, saying that “Nazis are pretty/ to look at” and that she does not understand what it all is about, finally being shunned after saying that she would like to name two pet dachshunds Heil and Hitler.
The poems in this volume are generous and forgiving. Weaknesses include rhymed verse that seems written to demonstrate proficiency with rhymed verse, and occasional cuteness, such as in “Report to the Assessor-Collector,” which some may appreciate. These minor flaws, however, do not detract from the collection’s appeal.