The Track the Whales Make: New and Selected Poems by Marjorie Saiser. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2021. 181 pages. $19.95, print.
The Track the Whales Make begins with a section of new work and then features poems from Saiser’s seven previous books, starting with the most recent and then moving backwards in time. Like Saiser’s poems themselves, the book’s construction creates a sense of what is fleeting. As the reader steps back further into Saiser’s work, the world and its ordinary things and relationships continues to transform in beautiful reverse.
The new poem “Sometimes I Remember to Watch” explores not the sunset, but the pink sky it creates opposite itself. Saiser captures the feeling of an ever-shifting world, which shifts whether or not we pay attention: “It’s brief, no matter whether / I raise my glass or turn my back. / The glow is, and then is gone….” Saiser draws the reader’s attention to the pink sky, not to the “audacious” sunset or anything more obviously breathtaking, because there is something beautiful and unmatched in that fleeting quiet. Throughout her poems, Saiser takes the ordinary and the ignored and finds the innate beauty in them, found largely in the fact that they, too, are fleeting.
Saiser’s poems are ultimately about love. Whether that be love for nature, parents, children, or even love gone awry, the heart of Saiser’s work is love, which courses through not only the depicted relationships but also the ordinary, fleeting things that she so deftly captures. In “I Didn’t Know I Loved,” Saiser discovers love in unexpected, everyday things, such as the speaker’s mother’s “big hands / slicing iceberg lettuce / with a thick-bladed knife” or “the head of the nail, / the blow of the hammer, / blueprints become the shell of the house.” There is a sense of gentle and welcomed surprise at the realization of love for these small things. Again, Saiser creates a sense of something fleeting, as the love is only now realized and has gone unnoticed for so long. This poem blends the love of family and home with the love of nature, creating a patchwork of an everyday world with love woven into the little things, only to be noticed now, when the choice is made to look.
—Mary Simmons, MAR