Becca Lachman is a poet, professor, and musician with roots in the Mennonite community of southeastern Ohio. Her collection of poems, Other Acreage, is pieced together like a quilt of images depicting rural Ohio landscapes, hymnal pages, and memories of a farm that sustained the family for generations.
Instead of traditional chapter breaks, the volume is punctuated by pauses numbered "Figure 1.1" through "Figure 1.8." These segments are brief prose poems that give us close-up glimpses of moments after which things are not going to be the same. "Figure 1.1" begins "February 1, 65 degrees in SE Ohio" and ends with a straight-faced flash of humor: "No one checks the 10-day forecast. We don't want to know" (3). The author's life as a docent is a theme in the figures. "Could my students spend a whole day in silence?" (41) Lachman muses in "Figure 1.6," and in "Figure 1.7" acknowledges, "I may never know what my students learn from me" (45).
There is a lost family farm in Other Acreage--lost in present time and to future generations, but vital for understanding origins. We first come across the lost farm in the introductory poem, "Preparation." "What color should a family wear to show a farm is dead to them?" (xi) Lachman asks. There is grief between the lines of this matter-of-fact question, and a quiet sense of loss surrounds the missing farm in "Joinery":
Up north, some other family will count triangle mud nests, catch kittens on the silo's foundation, prime the pump to taste our family's spring. (12)
There are fields to be crossed in the world of these poems, and a sister with children who isn't too close, but isn't too far.
Images of barns are pieced, with obvious affection, into Lachman's pages. She takes us zooming by them in her poem "Bypass," barns that "resemble a refrigerator box left too long in the rain," characterized by "ancient paint" and "patient sturdiness" (10). Barns speak in this poem. "Stop, the barns bark at my rusting Toyota" (10). "Their decay," she explains, "feels sweet, too tender, too tied to what took us a long time to shake" (10). The poem "Refurbished" pays homage to the life of barns. After naming various historical uses of barns besides "herd and harvest" (36)--housing hobos, hanging tobacco or possibly selves, billboard advertising for politicians and chew--Lachman describes the experience of driving past an Amish church service being held in a barn:
... I wanted the world to go on, as is. Not all of the leaning will be taken down to make photo frames, fruit crates, Long Island mudrooms. Some of it will be reborn standing.... We'll walk into a bookstore by the Pennsylvania turnpike, knowing well and good what it's been before. (36-37)
Reappearing through this collection, along with the ghost of grandfather Ivan and some unnamed nieces and nephews, is a Mennonite grandmother preparing pies. Each day of the week owns a poem and a type of pie. Monday's pie is peach; Tuesday, rhubarb with a lattice crust; Wednesday, lemon meringue; Thursday, a playful mud pie; Friday, a walnut pie that passes for pecan; and Saturday's pie poem is named "Animated Cherry." Sunday, of course, in good Mennonite fashion, is a day of rest.
St. Francis of Assisi receives six incarnations in poems named after the forms he takes, and a seventh as the title image of the poem "Icon." His first appearance is in "St. Francis Works at the Columbus Zoo." In this poem, St. Francis speaks to us in first person, telling us of the night he calmed the disturbed polar bears in order to save the lives of mischievous high school boys who snuck into the animals' pond. He comes to us also as a young prodigal who has wandered far from home and purchased a burrito buggy, then as a bystander at a nightmarish accident involving a car and a horse, as an Amish boy selling strawberries by the road, as a hospital chaplain, and as the presenter of a children's sermon. The speaker tells us in the poem "Icon" that an image of St. Francis stares across her kitchen, apparently looking somewhere distant, and that the only words he has ever spoken to her are, "Come: put down the weapon of your choice" (39).
Lachman's poetry is clear and accessible, a delightful blend of the familiar with the unexpected. Self-aware, often melancholy, and stitched together with a muted thread of humor, Other Acreage bears beautiful witness to life in the world beyond the safety of the farm, which, we sense, isn't all that far away.
DIANA R. ZIMMMERMAN
Moses Lake, Wash.
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|Author:||Zimmmerman, Diana R.|
|Publication:||Mennonite Quarterly Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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