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M. R. James has recently received her masters in English from Portland State University. She is interested in reviewing other literary works.


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Missing Pieces: A Coroner's Companion
by Kathryn Rantala
1998, Ravenna Press, $11.45
Reviewed by M. R. James

 

At the end of her new book of poetry, Missing Pieces: A Coroner's Companion, Kathryn Rantala presents the reader with an important coda. It is nothing less than a legend to the central theme of her work, both poetry and prose, in Missing Pieces.
What, she asks the reader, is left when the corporeal body is cut off from youth, from love and from the physical plane? A fragment of what once was, fractured into parts and left like clues at a crime scene waiting to be photographed, cataloged and put into plastic evidence bags, is the answer Rantala holds out. Once these elements are processed the story they tell is splintered. Reconstruction is necessary if the pieces are ever to achieve entirety again. That job lies with "The Face Finder" which concludes Ms. Rantala's collection:

Reflection on a larger sense of components. The hard and soft and missing, altogether. Reflection on the value of fragments found, whatever those fragments are taken to be: reproducible, unlikely, fey or impossibly hard to read.

The reader is asked to supply the Missing Pieces of these "poem fragments", "all clinically considered along with the intrusion of those other elements: the intimacy of the random, the distance at which it absorbs, the sense that the indeterminate is safe and, always, the small reminding tokens of the familiar."
The poetry and prose has a leanness and an "intimacy of the random" that is befitting the subject matter. The last stanza of "Danger," a poem about the assault of a young girl, is an excellent example of the power her sparse lines generate:

Some of the things in the garden
at the backs of the buildings
grow forever:
blackberries, glories
and moss.
Some local varieties of these
can be identified
and controlled.

Rantala includes pictures taken from the archives of the Seattle Washington Medical Examiner's Office, dating from 1938-1944, as, "small reminding tokens of the familiar." The pictures she includes are mundane pieces, not horrific pictures of bodies or graphic displays of crime scenes, and are designed to evoke visual fragmentation as a counterpoint to her poetry. Like her poetry and prose pieces the pictures are small glimpses into a world that is alien, yet hauntingly familiar: worldly yet ethereal in its stark, black and white, finality.
In Missing Pieces Ms. Rantala has produced a work that is compelling in its images and hauntingly beautiful in its often complex search for the reconstruction of the fragmentary. The work transcends its physical setting in its universal quest for meaning in distress, decay and death. Does, the poet asks, death diminish our birthright? Does violence negate the sweetness of ripening adolescence or the melancholy of someone else's love letters? Does it absolve us of our sins of patricide, even through neglect? The answer to these question are the bones and sinew of Missing Pieces.

 

To order a copy of Missing Pieces, send $11.45 to Ravenna Press, PO Box 127, Edmonds, Wa 98020, or order a copy through amazon.com.