Sawnie Morris lives at the edge of a gorge. Basaltic caprock—black, clastic, smooth—caving in sea-like   waves, 800 feet deep. At the bottom flows the Rio Grande. At the top, a mesa of sage. Blue hills rise to mountains, pinon-juniper to ponderosa to mixed conifer. It is a wild place. And it is at the center of this beautiful book Her, Infinite.  

 

Long ago its lava, it is still falling, it is still tipping, it is over-edged,

it is moss face, it is algae grown, it is lichen in us, it is licked place.

In our own blood flooded, how our heart thuds erratic to it.

 

This is a language of place—and not just an ethic, or homage to, or witness, but a lexicon of sense and an uncovering of the ontology that is made from the particularity of living deeply in a specific location. The poems are founded in, made of, and writ through this landscape. And so, from out of the cacophony of modern urban writing with its irony and displacement and its distance from committed speech, Morris maps a fresh, vibrant direction. Her poetry is lyric, elliptic, and unabashedly political and romantic. In “Cochiti Lake, 1989,” after describing a first swim with her love in language that portends simply, I invited you in. That’s when it began, she reports a litany of unknowns that build toward the followng:

 

We didn’t know about americium, cesium, perchlorate, or PCBs.

We didn’t know about hexavalent chromium.

We didn’t know about selenium (its soluble & insoluble states) or selenosis.

 

I, too, was once “highly mobile in water.”

 

                                                                  Consider,     now,     the     lyric 

possibilities of being

                                                   “re-suspended

                                                                            in high winds.”

 

Wide-ranging in their forms, the poems address, among other crises, the disposal of nuclear waste into the tributary drainages of the Rio Grande by the Los Alamos National Labs. In “It Is Documented,” a poem derived wholly from borrowed text, Morris writes:

 

Someone saw the .. . will to .. . self-reflect in .. . real .. … time was ..

. absent…Someone… knew .. surveillance was .. . limited to .. … .

observation .. .external appearances .. .and veiled. ..non-specific .. …

questioning     ..Someone heard a voice .. ..entangled. in. … . hair..

 

This grafting of stolen language broken with a Morse code of dots and spaces drives forward on its gaps, and implies something missing or taken away, or a secret relay of information from inside, so that the poem becomes both erasure/veil and coded collage. It feels like a war zone—the gaps a syntactic necessity, there not just to decipher the meaning of the poem, but also to mediate for the reader somehow the gasp, the disbelief of what is later heard.

But it is the intelligent force of Morris’s language and its gestural power that is most remarkable. Standing on shore, looking out toward the site of the “Deepwater Horizon” catastrophic oil spill, she writes: 

 

Beyond lay an unsullied depth, its blind feeling night creatures

their bioluminescence and phosphorous, penetralia

where plume  and embedded still

belonged to us.

 

Wave-lace replicates feather-tips and something sudden stirs.

 

                                                                  We    could    almost    wish    to    be 

                                                      torn

 

That plume and embedded could belong together, and to us, is a wonder. The book is an indictment, in sorrow, of the harms we have brought to the land. The wounds feel collective, the pain personal. It is this unbearable tearing that leads Morris back again and again to the gorge, the unselving depths of being.

 

early that morning she dreamt of 

       herself being beaten—well, not beaten,

    but slapped around—a little—as a prelude

                                                                       to

                                                                                  sex.

 

The bride descending, etc.

                             stripped down, 

                                           broken, the urge to be taken

                           apart—again—to be separated, that’s all

                                          into something

                             a little less solid, yes.

 

In Morris’s poems, desire and the coming apart are constantly moving in the subtext, underneath, between the Lover and the Beloved and the place itself, a place that seems to articulate longing.  

 

Last night the wind scrawled around as I lay down. You were already 

sleeping

              the deep sleep of a wild clam, your hand flung across your 

chest,

 

a creature the tide spumed up, the rest of you plunged in the footfall of 

dream,

             practicing for death—

 

Or this:

 

Already a waif with torn clothes and a finger,

I want you like a tight fit, like a swallow under eaves.

 

In sum, there is delight in the mastery of forms here, and deep-founded adventure and authority, something more than love for the land: a co-composition with it, and consciousness pluming where it is embedded. This is a book of hope—not only a reinvention of the poetics of the west, but a lyrical reaffirmation of what Michel Serres called the “natural contract.” Morris says it herself:

 

Inside this terrarium of restraint, I am a romping letter,

an alphabet of hope within a cold disastrous soup.

 

And:

 

I’m  a    romantic   because    if       truth is    beauty

I can   bear   it.   I like    smoke   and  mirrors.

                          That’s what      beauty     does,

it promises     something    you want to        follow.

 

       —Will Barnes

 
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