SPARROW: POEMS, by Carol Muske-Dukes, Random House, 64 pages, $22.95.

Carol Muske-Dukes, a novelist and professor of creative writing at the University of Southern California — as well as a respected poet— has written a most unusual volume of poems focusing on love and loss.

"Sparrow: Poems" is dedicated to her husband, David Dukes, who died tragically in 2000. (Of an apparent heart attack while playing tennis.)

Because her husband was an actor, they experienced an interesting blend of their artistic interests.

In a sense, this book is a follow-up to her book of essays, "Married to the Icepick Killer," a reference to the interesting experiences a writer/poet has when married to someone who portrays many different characters, i.e., an icepick killer. One of those essays, "Let Me Play the Lion Too: A Remembrance," refers to a quote from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," suggesting Dukes' desire "to play every part." The quote also became his epitaph.

Now in this seductive poetry collection, Muske-Dukes seeks to memorialize her husband and his memory in a different, more lyrical way. Just as God is presumably concerned about the fall of a sparrow, so is he concerned with the passing of David Dukes. Muske-Dukes clearly establishes for the reader what it means to be married to an actor.

The poem "Waiting For" speaks of her husband turning into "Vladimir," who "terrified" her with his "hat pulled down . . . bewhiskered, old," his "gaze young, demented, blue." This character reminded the poet that with Dukes, "Each day was unlike the others. . . . Nothing in our lives was ever usual."

In "Actor," Muske-Dukes longs for her husband — "You move so gracefully between what the author intended, what the audience requires. . . . You turned your back once to look at me over your shoulder, opening the Stage Door."

In "The Importance of," the poet joins their art, saying "This is what Fiction means. Once again, we have blurred identities. The importance of what is wild and stays wild, untamable as truth, is to our production, off and onstage, neither simple nor clear."

In "Strange Interlude," she recalls Dukes portraying a Eugene O'Neill character, "Up from rehearsal, you kept on being him . . . gazing into my eyes through your reflection, Murmuring about Nina in O'Neill underscript — what the character thinks."

My favorite is "Late Kiss," in

which Muske-Dukes remembers a familiar scene from her marriage — her husband stepping over a pile of books on her study floor, trying to reach her so he could kiss her goodnight. "You always kissed me like that, late — first pausing in the doorway. It was a ritual you kept for years."

In "The Image," she recalls turning on the television and seeing him "on-screen, in profile — turning to stare full-faced at me. A scripted wind lifts his hair, he gazes outward and through me." A beautiful woman hugs him from behind — she "holds his life in her hands, but his life is nothing more than what he chooses to give her. An exit line thrown over his shoulder."

These are lovely, artful meditations — a profound elegy to the man she still loves.


E-MAIL: dennis@desnews.com