The fascinating intersection of the mythic and the mundane fills Dotty E. Lemieux’s Henceforth I Ask Not Good Fortune, a collection that takes great joy in observation. Nothing is below Lemieux’s notice – the subjects range from thoughts on salt in a medical context, to soup kitchens and the downtrodden who visit them, to an absolutely charming poem about prunes. The settings Lemieux presents to us are recognizably urban in nature, with some of the poems suggesting connections to San Rafael, California and Reno, Nevada. Lemieux discusses and portrays the act of watching the world, capturing moments in time, and anxiety over death, sickness, and that which came before.
The first poem of the chapbook, “Woman her World on Skids”, sets the tone nicely. The speaker watches from their car as a woman crosses the road carrying a box, described by the speaker as “bearing the world/not aloft as Atlas/but on folded boxes that can be opened/into shelter”. This juxtaposition of the highbrow and mundane continues in the next poem, where the speaker describes a man eating a bagel from a charity dining room with “hair blowing around his face/cape billowing out behind his slender frame/he is transformed into a Romantic poet”. These themes continue up to the wonderfully short but warming “The Toothbrushes are Kissing”, which brings a sense of playfulness to the fore with its inspection of what the day-to-day of a toothbrush must look like.
In the middle of the chapbook, Lemieux’s themes turn to mortality. “Ah Death” begins “Death, cut it out. Can’t you give it rest, hang up your reaper’s robes for a while”, and while none of the poems following it address death so directly, they seem preoccupied with it, as the speaker spends two adjacent poems ruminating on the experience of spending time in a hospital, first in a personal reflection on our love-hate relationship with salt, then a more sobering discussion of what it means to lose yourself to old age.
The final third of poems are the longest and most detailed, following the speaker’s experiences observing, recording, and imagining the lives of others in three connected haibun poems. The first builds on the mortality themes by centering on an overheard conversation about the draft and war, and the latter two focus more on how photographs connect us to the past. In the third haibun, “The Dress”, the speaker connects all of the prior themes together as they examine their mother’s old dress.
Henceforth I Ask Not Good Fortune ultimately suggests that while mortality may be fearful, the ways we look at the world around us with wonder, humor, and kindness creates a meaning for the parts of life that we may consider meaningless at first.
Gray Flint-Vrettos is an aspiring author and a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in English and Creative Writing, and minors in Theater Arts and Film. He has a long history with theater, having appeared in multiple productions both on stage and behind the curtain. Currently, she’s focusing on getting involved with publishing and writing her first book.