Deborah Cummins, author of Counting the Waves (Word Press, 2006), summers in the same area I do, on Deer Isle in Maine, so I expected to find things I like in her poems.  There are a few local references, such as to folks at the town dump, but much of her material could be in many places; she has been in many places, and has given them all the same careful attention.  The title poem plays off an overheard conversation:

Child” “I’m bored.”
Mother: “Go count the waves”

Cummins imagines that the child who tried this impossible challenge would discover, “as he loses count, the waves’ myriad glittery eyes.”  “Counting the Waves” is a good title for the book, because while Cummins doesn’t do much counting, she uses close observation to bring out the details of what is immediately at hand on a walk along the shore, or out a window, or while she reads on her deck.  The opening poem tells us to expect this: “Inheritance” describes how fortunate she feels on an “about-to-be-golden” morning and her relationship to the world around her:

For now, I embark into the day,
my luggage light―some nouns,
a peppering of verbs―all I need.
And the landscape too lacks nothing.

Except for, with me in it, my responsibility―
ah, here’s the obligation―
to look and look.

The book is a gathering of scenes described through her eyes.  Odd things, like an old apple tree being moved on a flatbed truck.  Gentle things, like a swallowtail that comes right up to her or the luminous glow in a parking lot at sunset.  There are forty poems, divided into three sections.  The reader becomes comfortable with this detailed seeing in the first section, and then it is a shock when she turns in Section II to serious issues of relationships: difficulties with her mother, troubled neighbors where she grew up, a woman walking the shore who cannot recover from the loss of her husband.  All of these she treats with clear sighted compassion.  In the third section she turns back closer to her own life, but includes issues like losing keys and the way the body betrays us.  The poem “Keys” turns from the frustration of the lost keys to this:

Who would like the day of dog or wren,
days undifferentiated by yesterday or tomorrow?
No before-the-keys, no after-I-find-them.
Those places in between here and there,
between lost and gone.

As a sample of a full poem, one which focuses on the near at hand, here is

The Season’s First Apples

At the farmstand, among the crates
of late tomatoes and corn, the season’s
first apples blush at their debut―

smooth, unmottled beauties too pretty to eat.
For days, the ones I choose
adorn my kitchen shelf, their stout stems

like perky caps, tams, perhaps,
the kind without protective earflaps.
At the open window, wind is disguised

in the stillness of trees, the luffing
sails in the harbor.  Nowhere
in my radio’s broadcast is there a forecast

of snow.  I have no need
for socks or a sweater.  But at the sound
of my first bite of the season’s first apples,

boots crunch through icy layers.
Frozen tree limbs stutter
against the roof and gutters.

And the stove gapes open, ready
to make of another cord of wood
ash.  How solitary

the flame of a single struck match
that on certain cold nights
seems like the only salvation.

I like the word play.  Any apples might blush, but these “blush at their debut” and I see debutantes being presented.  Apples may crunch, but here it is boots that crunch and we are in a new scene entirely.  The music of these lines, with their rhymes, usually not end rhymes, and enjambments (as in wood/ash. How solitary/ for instance) is typical of Cummins’ work. It is a pleasure to read.  You can find it at: http://www.word-press.com/cummins.html

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