A meditation in the face of impermanence, Inscriptions is a book about a family in crisis. Three strong women—a mother, an aunt, and a sister-in-law—serve as focus for the collection as these compressed lyric poems wrestle with illness and “death,/ tangy as copper” and the ways in which they reshape a family. Thomas seeks consolation in what endures, discovering a sense of what’s sacred in the ordinary.
“The Emperor of Oyster Bay,” from Inscriptions:
He rode to the hunt with trumpets and guns
in November cold, his voice a drum,
his loyal children dressed in green and gold.
His words rang rifle shots, dogs cowering
behind him, stars rotating as years passed—
and blood wove itself into their cloth,
mutated into shapes of horse and hound
running under him on an icy path.
Air froze as they breathed it, icicles
in the lungs. They were pierced
by that which melted and left no trace.
“The poems of Cammy Thomas’s second collection, Inscriptions, have an emotional ferocity and lyric intensity that cut to the quick of desolating loss and fraught family legacies. ‘Air froze as they breathed it, icicles / in the lungs. They were pierced / by that which melted and left no trace,’ she writes in ‘The Emperor of Oyster Bay,’ the poem capturing in its final image the very essence of woundedness—the painful thing that leaves no trace but shapes, and makes, a life. These are poems that seek what endures beyond lack and the fragile consolations of a seemingly all-consuming world. The implacable balm Thomas offers, and the mercy, is her refusal to look away.” — Daniel Tobin
“‘All that is personal soon rots’; writes Yeats, ‘it must be packed in ice or salt.’ His words seem a fitting herald for the stark poems of Cammy Thomas’s Inscriptions—words exact, incised, cut deep—and not one word more than will suffice. In a world not made for us, the implacable is given voice in an unadorned, unerring Anglo-Saxon—written with a candor that is its own searing source of light.” — Eleanor Wilner
“’Our ghosts are always with us, / their stinks, their bad habits, always / as much as we’re with them,’…Throughout Inscriptions it is not necessary for Thomas to explain herself for readers to understand her. In her poems about death or disappointment, she weaves in some hope, making us feel like it is possible to move on and find new things and people in life to focus on and to love….” Read the full review.