BookMark: "Windthrow" By K. A. Hays

Apr 6, 2017

Marjorie Maddox reviewed "Windthrow" by K. A. Hays.

A new poetry book by K. A. Hays is all about weather—both the noun and verb forms. The book’s title, “Windthrow,” is a forestry term for the way wind uproots trees. It speaks also to how we weather this life of breeze and tsunami. Filled with wind, sea, forest, and bees, the poems move between light and shadow, negotiating happiness and grief.

The opening epigraph reminds us that the same hurricanes that fell trees, also “permit light to enter.” A later poem echoes, “Make us the brightness bent through shade./The thing, or rush of things, that makes/an opening, a way.” It is this hard way of living in the “limited glimmer of light” that Hays both understands and asks us to ponder, encouraging us to “try/to be the cloud that lets go its shadow/on a green hill.”

But the poet also knows this cannot always be. In her poem “I Asked the Flood, Are You Happy?” she explains, “I did not ask the light,/Are you happy?/I became it./The flood sallied forth,/ pressed beneath me,/and I spoke yellow, then red,/then green again,//and was not happy./And so became the flood./And turned away.”

Appropriately, Hays has dedicated her book “to you.” (As I wrote this, the “you” inscription felt plural. It was March 14th, and all of us here in central Pennsylvania were enduring a windy winter storm. Stella’s snows had buried the daffodils that had peeked out, too early, just a few weeks before.) In both her dedication and poems, the poet’s plural use of the word "you" reminds us that we are all drawn to renewal. Nevertheless, too often we stumble onto ruin.

For example, Hays muses, “The wild tulips not yet mown are calling/come, and come./The fat bees do. To step into this freshness/is to veer towards ruin./You too have climbed far enough/into the wild tulips/to sniff their decay./But again, naming themselves as they do,/into the yellow calling, the bees go.”

But other poems go a step further. In “Mother Goose Testament,” the poet encourages us, “even here make of your sinking/and shining/a song—a home-again song,//if you can help it, and,/if not that, then a song to cry//at the locks, and rap/at the windows.//A crooked song.”

Thankfully, the lush poems that are "Windthrow" are home-again songs that wash up unexpectedly on warm sands and also crooked notes that veer suddenly into deep woods. They are both whoosh and wonder. They will cry at your locks and rap at your windows. It’s windy outside. Let them in. 

"Windthrow" by K. A. Hays is published by Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series. 

Reviewer Marjorie Maddox is a professor of English and creative writing at Lock Haven University. She's also a writer and her most recent publication, a short story collection called "What She Was Saying," was published in March.