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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
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
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.
at the backs of the buildings
Some local varieties of these
can be identified
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
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.