can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave”), and more than a hint of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” hums its way into Springer’s second collection. Though Springer’s poems are haunted with longing for an American South where lunch ladies “serve fried okra & jambalaya” and “we learn to sew a pleat & stew a coon in Home Ec,” they’re also ambivalent in their love, acknowledging the violence that lurks and lingers in this beloved place.
Throughout the collection, Springer’s titles show a fondness for folk phrasings, and the poems spin those pointed expressions into stories that unravel the commingled love of place and the knowledge of this place’s violence. As Springer suggests in “What We Call This Frog Hunting,” emergence into adolescence in the midst of this world is both tender and brutal. Girls who practice “kissing / on each other—shy as spotted fawns” also “break the backs of frogs against a stone.” Even desire is marred by the bruises that surface around its edges, as in “Face That Could Pull a Stump,” in which a lover “strung me with / a necklace of hickeys so I / was bound to the moment // by its unspent bullets.”
Though Springer suggests there’s a “happiness” in this life that’s home to “front yard chickens, cockfight // Wednesday, Dixie Dandy Grocery sells catfish bloodbait, bright orange hats, gas, bullets,” she also exposes curiosity about those who flee this place. In “You Want Fair? The Fair Comes in the Fall,” Springer writes of a young man, Oscar Milby, who after a cruel rite of passage becomes “Sissy— / the livestock synonym for the human animal // who bites & kicks his way out of a herd of blue-ribboned show goats / to wander into the alien forest.” While the narrator doesn’t long to follow Milby, whose departure leaves him “erased” from the history of the place, the speaker wonders what became of him and offers no easy excuse for the frightening initiations that “back then were the fashion—much as every boy / wore the same military flattop & block letterman’s jacket.”
Just as Springer’s poems work through the struggle of how to love the Mississippi, the “river who / could carry a cypress three thousand miles / on its back & still not ache,” but which also carried people to their lives as slaves, the form of the poems in the collection also suggest tensions between admiration and a broader, more complicated experience of place. In “You Can’t Tell Nobody Nothing Who Ain’t Never Been Nowhere,” two columns suggest the distance between ignorance and hard-won wisdom, as the poem becomes a catalog of all the lessons one learns only through the brutality of experience:
When first learning to peel beets, it feels right to cut--
But you have to see for yourself.
In unripe persimmons
This tension between ignorance and experience surfaces in a different form in the most haunting poem in the book, “Hindsight’s Ballad: I’d Go Back & Fix Me, If I Was My Own Daughter.” Through three of the poem’s four sections, each stanza runs and rushes for two long lines, then offers an abruptly short third, as if trying to hold back the unfolding narrative, the speaker wanting to protect her younger self:
your paper money falling by the barstool. Your snowy egret breasts. Your limbs akimbo
In conjuring the aftermath of such violence, Springer sings murderous hymns. The music of the poems, its rhymes and half-rhymes, propel the reader even through the grimmest images, such as when the speaker of “Hindsight’s Ballad” imagines vengeance: “Maybe you could stick a meat hook / through the solar plexus of man number six / & lift his body to the trees till his blood drains / & he becomes the carrion special stripped by / birds to skeletal remains?” Indeed, music is the way through the terror, and the poem ends with a call back to the speaker’s sixteen-year-old self—not to keep her out of the bar, away from the men who would rape her, but with the belief that “if I can get you to put your viola in its crushed velvet case, proper, instead of being / so careless—I can save you. // That if I cannot go back & save you— / Music can.”
Springer shows time and again that this music is an inheritance, the murder ballad that dwells in “the dark county of the heart,” and her poems hold the tension of wanting “to erase the ancient, violent beauty / in the devil of not loving what we love.”