Inside This House
by Pam Crow
Main Street Rag Press. 57 pages, $12.
Pam Crow’s poems are a smooth, subtle combination of craft, technical skill, and accessible language. The poems in Inside This House are divided into two sections. The first, “I Dream Leona Helmsley Comes to Dinner,” weaves through the poet’s past and present. Family relationships, awakening sexuality, the joy of gardening, personal memories of home, and navigating the ups and downs of childhood are presented with compassion and care. The second, “Delivery,” concentrates on slice-of-life moments in the here and now. Crow is a clinical social worker, and the gentle demeanor required for her day job is reflected in her voice, as shown in “Memorial Garden,” where she ponders gardening as a spiritual act: “You worship in the dirt,/ on your knees with a trowel/ in your hand…/ You tell me you don’t know/ any God, but what of this/ conversation of flowers?” She continues to use gardening as a framework for human relationships, calling upon the natural world to give voice to her emotions. From “Waltz”: “When you came painting mud on my cheeks/ and waltzing with the Green Gage Plum/ I rolled my eyes. It didn’t stop you…/ …And my heart,/ that ancient black handbag,/ wheezed open/ exposing pale green/ shoots of winter flowers.” Crow’s ability to make form appear effortless is on display here, as well as her eroticism: “How can one woman’s skin hold so much light?/ When my mouth brushes across the silken/ desert of your belly, blossoms ignite…/ …You invite/ me deeper, where I can feel you open,/ sense the heat adobe holds nearing night.”
Chain of Fools: A Donald Strachey Mystery
by Richard Stevenson
Harrington Park Press. 184 pages, $10.95
In light of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s recent acquisition of the venerable Wall Street Journal, Donald Strachey’s latest mystery is very timely. Two newspaper chains, described as “the good chain and the bad chain,” are bidding on the Edensburg Herald, an upstate New York newspaper. The family that owns the paper is divided on which chain should take it over. Janet Osborne, its editor and the lesbian daughter of the Herald’s late publisher, brings Strachey, a private investigator, and his partner Timothy Callahan, a state legislative aide, into the situation. She favors the good chain that would uphold the paper’s traditional standards and liberal philosophy. Her gay brother Eric, also a supporter of the good chain, is dead. She and his lover Eldon “Skeeter” McCaslin suspect murder. To make matters worse, an attempt has been made on Janet’s life. Strachey’s job is to find out if a family member supporting the “bad” chain is responsible before another life is lost. As a longtime mystery fan, I prefer the hard-boiled noirish storytelling exemplified by John Morgan Wilson in his series of mysteries featuring gay newspaperman Benjamin Justice, while Chain of Fools is as tame as the Hardy Boys. My major complaint is that the reader never gets to see the day-to-day workings of the Herald. Janet Osborne, who supposedly runs a respected newspaper, is never shown at work and sure spends a lot of time out of the office. This is pleasurable read, best suited to a reader who likes the violence and mayhem kept to a minimum: there’s nothing here that will disturb one’s sleep.
Charles Michael Smith