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- Davis, Cortney
Summary:In "Mandatory Evacuation Zone," Felice Aull has gathered 63 beautifully crafted poems in which she examines the intricacies of language and loss, of grief and healing. Each of the book's five sections considers these themes in slightly different ways, always in language that is understated, vivid, and exact. In Section I, we read poems that focus on the author's complicated family history and her early loss of homeland. In "Tracings" (page 15), an unknown relative (thanks to online genealogy searches) reaches the narrator and wants to meet her. She, however, only wishes to learn ". . . how my parents / and my infant self / made our tortuous way out . . . . " Brought in infancy from Germany to America, the author suffers the loss of both native homeland and native language ("Notes from an Alpine Vacation" page 16). She searches photos of her mother and ponders museum note cards illustrated by Holocaust survivors ("Museum Notecards" page 18), imagining what she can't quite know and yet can't quite forget.
Section II finds the narrator as a young woman in American, awakening to sexuality ("Gay Blades," "Camp Counselors Make Out," "On the Staircase" pages 29-31), becoming a wife and mother, and then a grandmother. A grandchild's birth is both joyful and yet another "slipping toward / the edge of separation" ("Daughter in her Eighth Month" page 37).
In Section III, the author turns her gaze to observations of the world around her, around us, aware of how many come to loss and death. "Be prepare to mourn," she tells us in "Disaster in October" (page 49), and in the moving poem, "I Saw the Smoke," re-visions September 11th in words stripped of sentimentality and therefore made more powerful.
Sections IV and V confront bodily loss through aging and illness, noting how, in so many ways, we try both to capture and to let go: "You snap photo upon photo / hoping to grasp and preserve / what cannot be grasped" (Capturing Alaska" page 66). We learn of the most personal losses in poems of biopsies, surgeries, and chemotherapy. When facing the unknown, every event might seem to hold a prediction. In "Stunning Blows," a doorman stuns a mouse, claims that it's dead. But the narrator, aware of the wages of time, writes, "But I still see it, like death, / moving toward me" (page 81). At the book's end, we return to language, how it too can leave us ("Forget That" page 90). Yet in the collection's final, gentle poems, the poet is "able, finally / to walk past the park's redbud tree / without weeping" ("Immunity" page 96).