murmurs at the gate by Suzanne Rancourt
murmurs at the gate – Suzanne S. Rancourt’s second book of poetry uses both fictional and auto-biographical events to create a chorus of survivors. These poems for the unspeakable, the marginalized, the “in-betweeners,” create a chorus of survivors in the theatre of life’s sorrow, love, tragedy, beauty, and profound human resiliency.
Ms. Rancourt’s life attests to being a survivor, and states, “Prejudice is non-discriminatory.” murmurs at the gate, is a poetic narrative that explores the harsh measures of life’s wars. “If we are at war with everything, who are the Warriors? Who are the survivors? And, for how long does the war cry reverberate?” Marine and Army veteran, and multi-modal artist, Ms. Rancourt brings to the reader her rich and diverse metaphors inspired by rural mountain living and Native American culture. Ms. Rancourt honors all her ancestors in this astounding book where every murmur could be your own.
Publication Date: May 27, 2019
Availability: Wherever books are sold.
We were not allowed to stay with our family or community
where we fed our animals and grew our gardens, foraged
for wild food and medicines. Most of the harder changes
had come and gone. I only remember some of the old ways.
Papa doesn’t sing anymore.
He sleeps a lot—we don’t get to bathe like before
like when we would light candles around the tree--
stars of life—painted the ox horns red and black.
The desert sand could be molded to fit our bones for comfort.
The sidewalk tile is painted and unyielding. It doesn’t hurt me much
it hurts Papa. He sleeps a lot. We don’t eat much. Papa’s bones
have become angled with the new life of no life,
filthy feet, lice and soiled clothing. We have one cup, enamel,
it holds our sustenance—coins, grains of rice, sometimes tea.
Sometimes I pretend that I recognize people from our family,
our clan of wanderers, healers, singers—I run up to them
holding my cup, grabbing their hand as children do.
The men sometimes touch with the pads of their fingers around my lips
put gold in my cup and say they will buy me when I am older.
Papa cries to sleep. “We are hostages” he says, “to progress, engineers,
strangers with no color pressing black boxes to their faces paying gold
for our moments of no moments.” Papa sleeps on a pillow
stuffed with grime. The no-color-skin man touches my mouth and says
“You should never grow old” and presses the corner of my curved lip
with the same finger that presses the shiny button on the black box.
I am frightened and not frightened.
I remember sleeping in oxcarts in cool desert nights with stars
our home was larger than all the palaces
we spun like turrets—arms up as pinnacles
in dresses and wraps of glitter and woven reds
brass and ivory arm bangles clacked and rung rhythmically
to the clay drums, click sticks, and gut–string.
I swirl loose tea in my chipped cup
like desert wind far away from sitting
in the sharp square of Papa’s sleeping hip, corner of
clay wall, painted tile floor—the backs of my legs are cool
getting longer. I am growing up
and the men will one day buy me because I could not stop
the progress of no life
living in the black box.
Suzanne Rancourt takes us deeply into the loves and the lives of her Native American people; enough so that we find ourselves touching our own stories, our ancestors, our own fragile and tough remembrances. It’s a beautiful book; one will want to read and re-read her tender and tough stories, deeply compassionate, touched here and there with delicious humor.
--Pat Schneider, author, Writing Alone and With Others and How the Light Gets In, both from Oxford University Press, and founder, Amherst Writers & Artists.
Suzanne Rancourt has written an autobiography in words -- words that bring the reader into her life and all its difficult and joyous events, words that show us how a truly brave woman-artist lives. Her images sing and whirl, as when she writes, " The wind in a spinning skirt sneaks a harmony from thighs to earth. . . " This is Rancourt's second book, and it points the way to more poems that clamor to be read and heard.
--Bertha Rogers, Poet, Wild, Again
Your poetry brings width to time, lets me enter places unheard of, yet familiar in their humanness - I love to listen to the poetic stories, finally, they are heard forever.
--Professor Margo Fuchs Knill, Ph.D.,
There are no smoke bombs here and the 200 or so pages encompass and expose the inner workings of a thoughtful poet who has bravely shed the notion that just a few poems would do for a first shot at stardom. Not that any are superfluous. Just that there are a lot of them. In a more equal world, where editions flow rarely, reviewers and commenters would have the privilege of following a poetic career. There are some ‘Oh my god the tank is on fire’ moments. But equally there many short and concisely penned pieces..."
-- Duncan Harley (https://duncanharley.blogspot.com/2019/07/murmurs-at-gate-by-suzanne-s-rancourt.html)
Whether exploring the strengths that bind us within familial relationships or of those that bind us to the elemental forces within the natural world, Rancourt’s poems serve as spiritual meditations, igniting chords of remembrance for who and what we truly are beyond the limitations of flesh and bone. Often deft with subtlety, such as the character reveal of a father who “removed that petrified baby rabbit from the middle of the logging road,” this collection also holds back nothing in its seeking to understand humanity’s obsession with violence, given our indelible commonalities of what it means to be human. Prepare to be moved!
-- Tracy Crow
I would lie if I didn’t admit that my first impulse when writing a response to “murmurs at the gate” was to say “if Emily Dickinson went to war….” But Rancourt’s work is more deserving than a comparison to Dickinson, to the extent that the comparison discounts her work, because her work makes me question why it is that Dickinson comes to mind. Why am I more familiar with Dickinson than any story before her time, before white privilege erased the voices they didn’t want to hear. Why would I compare Rancourt’s work to the work of another female poet (especially one as canonized as Dickinson)? Why not Brian Turner, Yousef Komannyakka, Owen, Sassoon, insert name of another male poet who has written about war. Rancourt writes, “Violence is a heavy thing,” compares the sand of war to makeup that comes in “metal saucer discs with a compact mirror,” as she bears witness from life how female veterans must not only fight war, but oppression, victimization. No, there is no comparison. Rancourt blazes new trails with her use of dashes—cutting time and adding time, and fierce use of line breaks that move a poem forward, reflective and visual, sensual and philosophical. Image by image, thought by thought, image by thought, by question, by why? Why, in coming up with analogy, comparison, simile, to describe her work, does my mouth come up dry, and I’m left searching for “belt loops, dry socks, and cigarettes….” Yet my mouth is filled with “true flavor.”
--Jason Poudrier, 2018 Pat Tillman Scholar and author of Red Fields