Sometimes you read a collection of poems that feels tailored to your way of seeing the world. Such has been the case with Meghan Sterling’s debut collection, These Few Seeds. Her poems search, with lucidity and luminosity, for that sweet spot in one’s short existence where gratitude and satisfaction convene. One of the books’ primary leitmotifs, we find it when the speaker in “Memory is a Greek Island” avows I decided here to love all that I was given, /no matter how much it hurt. I, too, have spent my life trying to find that sweet spot where it all comes together; however, Sterling illustrates for us, time and time again, that one must find joy in the search, as in “Asterism” when she writes:
…an evening sky violet with snowfall.
And in the hours that she sleeps, our daughter
breathes with her face turned full to the sky,
lit as if the stars had found her tonight
like the night she entered the world
when the rare snow covered the town in silence,
the stars showing their fullest brightness,
as if the very fabric of space was in awe.
These are the lessons to be learned from this book. For example, the human condition is best tolerated when we are made to recognize that the best of it is a matter of accrual, of moments tender and sublime, and these few seeds—our moments of fleeting joy or perfection—are what make a garden.
As with many debut collections from poets who have lived complicated and varied lives from which the material for their books has been mined, more than one theme reveals itself in These Few Seeds. Poems about motherhood abound, and they address what overwhelms about it. For example, the sense of being consumed by one’s love for a child, as in “Adeline” when she writes, Agony of any distance./Even in the next room, I dream of her/ behind my eyes, my belly still holding memory,/ the sky stripped of cloud,/her perfect breath always in earshot,/ a weathervane, right as rain. Many of her poems that speak to the responsibility of nurturing a child are woven with poems that address environmental concerns or poems that speak to the way children complicate our domestic partnerships. Sterling lets us know, if we don’t already, that little comes easy, which is what necessitates the way one of her poems might hold up a moment to appreciate before the next difficulty arises.
Another theme that naturally elides with that of creation is, of course, loss. If we are to be truthful about the human condition, we cannot rightfully address birth without elegy, too. In These Few Seeds, a poem about the joy of jumping in puddles with a child is directly followed by one which mourns the death of a prior partner to drug use. In “How Many Times,” Sterling asks, How many times can we mourn a death?/ Again and again, yes. But never like the first. Piggybacking on this theme of loss is that of memory, because in each there is a looking back; thus, Sterling’s poems about family history and how it interweaves with Judaism naturally go hand-in-hand with the book’s other considerations.
In “Marfa, TX,” Sterling writes, All travel leads us to the same conclusion—/how alike we are—, which is what makes These Few Seeds read for me as a companion text for my own existence, from her poems about the seductiveness of youth to her poems on the maternal to her poems about grief: I get it. And I thank her for articulating it with these luminous paeons to a life lived with authenticity and grace.
Sonia Greenfield is the author of two full-length collections of poetry. Letdown, released in March, was selected for the 2020 Marie Alexander Series and published by White Pine Press. Her collection, Boy With a Halo at the Farmer’s Market, won the 2014 Codhill Poetry Prize and was published in 2015. Her chapbook, American Parable, won the 2017 Autumn House Press/Coal Hill Review chapbook prize. Her work has appeared in a variety of places, including in the 2018 and 2010 Best American Poetry, Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, and Willow Springs. She lives with her husband, son, and Shiloh shepherd in Minneapolis where she teaches at Normandale College and edits the Rise Up Review.