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Review of Earth Again by Chris Dombrowski

Wayne State University Press, 2013

$15.95 paper

Review by James Crews

In Earth Again, Chris Dombrowski taps into our collective fears about the future of the planet and the ways in which we can and cannot connect as humans with the natural world. Dombrowski is the author of one previous collection, By Cold Water (Wayne State University Press, 2009), and two chapbooks, Fragments with Dusk in Them and September Miniatures with Blood and Mars. The magnificence of Earth Again is that every poem seems to emerge from the very dirt, the very ground on which Dombrowski walks. Unlike many collections these days, which muse on nature and ecology from a great remove, this book gives us a speaker unafraid to sing to us from the middle of the woods, as it were, his hands covered in the stuff of this world he loves. In “Tablet,” the poem that opens the collection, he writes:

Up the cutbank of a creek named after stone,
striking stone, I came walking, my fingers
stained with the pulp of raspberries picked
from branches arched over descending snowmelt
beneath two clouds and blue sky no one
built . . .

Dombrowski’s urgent lines seem always to push us forward, keeping us reading until the conclusion of his often-striking revelations. And a collection that focuses on the Earth cannot help but also call forth visions of the end of the world. In “Weekly Apocalyptic or Poem Written on the Wall in an Ascending Space Capsule,” Dombrowski delivers a bleak but unflinchingly honest assessment of where we’re headed if we keep ignoring what we’re doing to the planet; he writes:

. . . How devoted we were
to despising one another, to erecting
our own private islands made of water
bottles and various other plastic
disposables. “Will you forgive me?”
was a phrase stricken from our language—

None of us, he points out, is willing to accept the blame for the effects of our collective actions, and the poem thus ends on a quiet yet heartbreaking note: “There was/this bird we used to call a whippoorwill.” It would be a disservice, however, to say that Earth Again is only a serious collection, for Dombrowski also gives us the tenderness of domestic scenes with family and the humor of trying to be more ecologically aware. “My Recently Implanted Gov’t Eco Guilt Chip” imagines a world in which we are all forced to feel guilt for using too much toilet paper or wasting six gallons of fresh water whenever we flush. It’s refreshing to read a book that never turns maudlin or sentimental, yet still illuminates what Chris Dombrowski describes as “the lustrous strand/binding us here, each to each.”