The poems in Sara London’s Upkeep offer a guidebook for both coping with and negotiating the difficult terrain of life after great personal loss. In the book’s opening section, the speaker explains to a Martian the ways we earthlings attempt to raise our dead—“you’ll find that with dreams // we exhume our dead without the mess /of upturned dirt”—and later finds comfort in objects that connect her to her late Mr. Fix-It father. These are elegies whose solemnity has been upended by humor and nuanced interrogations of the daily rituals that heal us. “How do you / do it, start the experiment— / gas up, each day, anew?” she asks. Oatmeal and duct tape help, London suggests, but ultimately the heart decides: The “old tubes, they play on.”
To say I sail would not account for my whereabouts,
or suggest the horizon is evident, or the north star
to be found. Wind rustles and retreats, and it’s
entirely commonplace to find me plying
headlong into the froth of my own wake.
I do gaze. Distance is something I debate
as I dream, awake in ambient brine next to you.
Next to you I clang bells at the moon’s milk-load
of wattage. I pay a medium toll for mixing up
stern and bow, mast and staff, suggestible (gullible)
and suggestive (evocative). Sank, sunk, etc., et alia.
But as I fumble metaphors in the lee of the licks
and in the Milky Way’s way, your field tenders
its miracle magnet, tugging me through Cabo-de-Hornos blows,
ensuring I skirt shoalings wending home.
“. . . . The earmark of this distinctive book is the tension between the simplicity of the poems’ occasions and the intricacy of their construction. A woman braiding her hair, a folding chair beside a mother’s coffin, someone cleaning a street or cooking oatmeal or driving through a storm, some fruit in a bowl, it is out of these small, unassuming, easily overlooked (by anyone but London) objects and moments that the poems in Upkeep construct their elaborate extended metaphors. . . .” —Lynn Emanuel
“When Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote ‘the achieve of, the mastery of the thing,’ he exactly describes the richly textured idiom and virtuosic musicality of Sara London’s Upkeep. I greatly admire how her understanding of elegy is in tension with her humor and essential hopefulness. But most of all, her work embodies what Seamus Heaney once called ‘the steadfastness of speech articulation,’ in which her care for language is continuous with her care for other people and the world.” —Tom Sleigh
“…A singular strength of London’s vision throughout this volume is her oft-demonstrated awareness that the work of a poem, like the work of mourning, is to effect new connections to the world through refreshed perceptions. London performs this work through mastery of metaphor and the unexpected but apt turn of phrase….”