“I tried to grow what others grew,” Maxine Scates writes in “My Wilderness,” the title poem of this utterly distinctive and captivating collection, but luckily she does not, for “there were too many trees, the darkness beneath them growing mushrooms, fawn lilies, and trillium.” What can be better than poems of the darkness beneath trees teeming with understory, with yearning, empathy and grief? The rarity of this book is its willingness to enact mystery without grasping after resolution or uncorking wisdom, to hold space for the unsayable, the unlamentable. These poems demonstrate the urgency of seeing—the motherland, the mother—and the numinous presence of what is felt but can’t be seen. Despite their largesse, their magic, these are poems of the real, of work, scarcity, alcoholism, violence, and caretaking the careworn, of how wilderness becomes landscape becomes subdivision, in which “cutting up the land you grew up on is like eating your parents.” The final sequence is a masterful rendering of mother loss, an arc of unmitigated sublimity.Diane Seuss
With sumptuous detail, Maxine Scates exposes the amorphous dimensions of grief, immersing us in her wilderness of falling oaks, ice storms, hospitals, beloved dogs, and her mother’s slow dying. At the same time she never fails to give us the mystery of the possible. This is a poet I trust, a poet I want to follow, one so deft she can parse the difference between eternity and infinity, writing “one has more light.” My Wilderness is rich, wandering, and true.
Anne Marie Macari
In My Wilderness Maxine Scates has found a way to make grief a rich force and mysterious restorer, undistanced, in its earthen visions, from who or what can’t look back. Its natural world, lived in, tended, almost familial, is understood in the midst of its plunder, where her own losses resonate deeply. This is an exceptionally moving and caring book.William Olsen
At one point, in My Wilderness, her long-awaited new book, Maxine Scates baldly declares, ‘I can’t remember.’ In fact, the one thing the narrator of these exceptional and original poems cannot do is forget. My Wilderness is an elegiac work composed of lavish narratives, which shift and turn restlessly between the dead, the living, the transitory, and the immemorial. Of the book’s welter of landscapes—a ‘maze of orchards,’ the empty concrete waterways of Los Angeles, a town ‘ringed by prisons,’ Scates, summoning Ovid, declares ‘everything / seems on its way to becoming something else.’ My Wilderness is a grave and beautiful archive of losses, and Scates the diligent, urgent, vivid archivist.Lynn Emanuel