Publishers Weekly reviews Bestiary

Bestiary Elise Paschen. Red Hen (CDC, dist.), $16.95 (80p) ISBN 978-1-56709-131-2

The passionate, yet controlled, third volume from Paschen (Infidelities) pursues the likenesses between human beings and other sorts of beasts: Paschen watches domestic animals, visits zoos and backyards, and records the instincts that animate her, as lover, mother, daughter and citizen. Husband and wife "share a wedded habitat"; a mother breastfeeding her daughter "would like to buzz/ into the orchid of your ear," while a manatee looks to the poet like "a mistaken mermaid,/ on the brink of vanishing from sight." Paschen offers sonnets, villanelles and even a ghazal, in which butterflies in an exhibit "invent a sky beneath the dome." Readers might remember not the moments of pure description, but the difficult emotions Paschen describes in her poems about marital love, motherhood and finally a daughter's grief. The urn with her father's ashes dominates one poem, and her late mother's career as a ballet dancer takes over another: "Mother, when I was young, I watched/ you from the wings and saw the sweat," Paschen writes, saw "your gasp/ for breath. I thought it was your last." If we are animals, Paschen suggests, we are the animals who look hard at one another, the animals who remember and who mourn. (Jan.)