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'Woods' powerful, eloquent

CAROLINA GHOST WOODS; by Judy Jordan; Louisiana State University Press, 59 pages; $14.95.

This prize-winning collection, containing 24 poems, is the first book of Utah poet Judy Jordan. It is eloquent and evocative, yet it speaks to the average person who is not an avid poetry reader. Jordan's own incredible life experiences in the North Carolina back country provide the material.

She is a survivor of a difficult childhood, one in which she lost her mother when she was only 7 years old.

So she taps that experience generously, using a strong, wise voice.

A spiritual tone arises out of two thoughtful selections on prayer. The two strongest entries are the title poem, "Carolina Ghost Woods," which goes deeply into the more traumatic experiences of her life, and "Killing at the Neighbors," which explores not only the violence that surrounded her but also the nature of her relationship with her mother.

In the title poem, Jordan faces her own guilt at the death of her mother:

Foxfire daubs this night's swollen joints

with the seven-year-old's guilt,

the one who caught wild animals,

who didn't understand how death keeps count,

that birds are ferriers of the soul

or what a bird loosed indoors would mean,

who not one month before her mother would die

scooped the meadowlark from the river's bank

and released it in the house.

In "Killing at the Neighbors," Jordan recalls that when a neighbor woman killed her husband in self-defense, Judy and her mother tried to make the house presentable:

heard nothing. Never mind all that.

For what I slept with was the press of that brush,

just an old handless used for whitewalls;

the ache of it in my palm

and my mother's insisting, we don't want her

to come back to this. scrub harder.

What I slept with was not the taste of my chewed lip

but the memory of the green hose taut against the brick,

not the cold water, jeans-sucked up my thighs,

easing into my cupped hands,

but how the stains wouldn't come up,

just pinked, like candy fireballs licked to their core.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com