These poems offer a rich series of impressions of the speaker's present life, surrounded by family, a garden, and pockets of natural life that evoke memory after memory of a childhood lived in relative poverty with a father whose years as a coal miner damaged his lungs and finally killed him. Allusions to his chronic and worsening illness and his death thread through the poems like a long shadow.

Recurrent images of his blood-stained handkerchief, his coal-smeared face and hands, are echoed in images of the death of an uncle, the deaths of animals, and of a mother strained by poverty and taking frugal measures to preserve small things. The final poem in the collection recalls her in old age, barely able to see, but still "stitching it all together."

The title poem, one of the best, pauses over the famous idea that the flutter of a butterfly's wings might be the source of large effects continents away. Together the collection invites us, without sentimentality, to consider how things are connected over time and come together in memory in compositions one couldn't have anticipated.


The judge who selected this collection for publication in the National Poetry Series comments in her introduction that the poems "fit together as perfectly and inevitably as polygons in a geodesic dome." More than most collections, though without providing too literal a narrative frame, Butterfly Effect does do the work of story in giving us insight into the habits and survival strategies of characters whose lives are deeply intertwined by necessity and loss, but who seem perhaps less accessible to each other than they are made to the reader, refracted through the speaker's compassionate and reverent point of view.

They are quiet poems; their effects are not witty or dramatic, but moving in their skillful simplicity. Especially pertinent to those reflecting on parents' aging and death and the memory of what they bore that only becomes clear when children are old enough themselves to know something of the sacrifices taken on and sustained for family.


This collection was selected for the National Poetry Series.



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