For Susan Rawlins, sometimes even the most genuine self-expression serves only to hide us from ourselves. In “What Is Important,” the poet observes that “My father has learned a lot/ lately and asks my opinion/ before interrupting to tell me/ the truth. …/ I have said what I have to say;/ it has made no difference.// I have spent my life putting/ words in rows in the cause of/ the small human heart, mine/ especially. The flower that/ favors me by blooming,/ a hand’s warmth, the comfort/ of lunch, of clean white sheets./ Small things my mother taught me,/ small loving things.”
The “small things” are keenly observed with wit and reverence in “Even As We Speak: Selected Poems” ($12.95 in paperback from Class Action Ink). Whether adventures with husband Stan, or the the death of their dog, Rawlins’ simple language reveals a world that’s not so simple after all. “We have given his blankets back to Goodwill,” the poet says in “Willie the Dog Incarnate.” “His dish is on the dryer, but now full of/ clean socks. Stan was never annoyed with/ his getting old and sick. …”
Rawlins attended Chico Senior High; her family, according to a news release, “has been in Chico since 1873, deeply involved in M. Oser and Company, Congregation Beth Israel, and Chico State College. …”
In “Thought on the Stairs” the poet muses, “How long can one grieve for an ice cream flavor? Shubert’s/ Sherbet Shop (since 1938) had the world’s best fresh peach/ ice cream until it didn’t. The chocolate perseveres.” The nativity pageant in “Audiences Won’t Behold” happened at Hooker Oak School in 1952. “The Angel of the Annunciation/ wondered why she,/ so dutiful,/ had one scene and eight lines/ while some nobody/ played the Virgin. …”
In “Way to Go,” “Twenty years later my middle brother played softball/ for George’s Pest and Termite Control, the team of/ Chico State’s English Department faculty. I sat/ with the wives who discussed Doris Lessing, diaper/ rash, how many days he would be depressed having/ bobbled the double play, sexism in Charlotte’s Web—/ then the sudden shriek Awright! Way to go, Pests! …”
Rawlins will be reading from and signing copies of her book Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.