While reading Breath on a Coalby Anne Haven McDonnell, I saw a murmuration migrate through the poems as a confluence of current and animal body, a voice of desire moved by community and shaped by ancient pattern. I saw the collective low-hum choral and choreography of the invisible projected to the senses. McDonnell’s poetic murmuration liquifies the self, rivers the dry bed. The human and more-than-human characters in the book are not distinct from, they are of—of place, of atmosphere, of land, of belonging. I began my image making with a murmuration as a visual inception that sought to express the quality of both fluidity and belonging explored in Breath on a Coal.
From “The Woman Who Married a Bear”:
Dank breath and cool seeps in the cave, wrapped by that bear as if sleep there could carry me back where I belong.
As I continued the project, I wanted to represent the connective material that flourishes in and between the poems in Breath on a Coal. McDonnell’s penetrating and careful observation of the seen superimposes on the unseen and presents a multiverse of channels within our miraculous world of reciprocity and exchange. In the poems, I saw vivid connectors that extended from the speaker and to the speaker:
Emotion exploring from the body as tentacles.
Circles emanating from touch as the surface of water ripples from a plopped stone.
The air hued with shadows of what has been and what will be.
Branching mycelium as shimmering, silvery conduits between matter and spirit.
From “Above the Trestle”:
They cache dried flowers,
you tell me, and leave urine crystals on granite where orange lichen feed.
I cache these small evidences, life’s exchange without us. I love
how we love them together in this stutter of blue sky, a scrap of ground,
the world wild and blurred
I saw throughout the book: veins, rivers, tentacles, radiance, bio-luminosity, currents, bodily rhythm, the visceral as skin and sensor, penetrating negative space. I saw rich, connective matter—ligaments, bones, flesh thread through by electric, intricate, spiritual channels, all of it in continual conversation and transformation, even in realms of death, even in what some may perceive as emptiness.
From “The way Things Sync Their Light”:
But I want to talk about what comes after: the air in the woods when the fireflies go dark, the way my dead loved ones blow through me this morning— all at once inside the same breath.
That we belong, that others belong, why is it radical to believe? In McDonnell’s poems, this belonging is a fact of existence, and only the limits of societal imagination prevent us from this truth. The book offers that we need only to breathe the smallest breath upon a dense, buried, ancient knowing to reignite what appears extinguished. I hoped to bring that quality of breath and ignition to my pictures.
Grief spins its heavy gravitation in the book, too, and I could see the ghosts behind the veil—the close loved ones, the old, vital, flourishing worlds and beings razed for profit and power, so I placed those spirit-realms within the layers.
From “Emerging View”:
Mountains rise like the grieving that rolls into this strange season Wheeling towards us, nameless on our animal tongues.
Mapped by extra-dimensionality, currented by the connective, knowing tissue of McDonnell’s vision among, between, and within—it is with these gifts of perception from Breath on a Coal that I created this imagery.
From “Dream with Father”:
I think we murmured soothing things. I think we moved a little closer to each other, breathing.
Kim Parko is home to a wilderness of the unseen and is at home in the same. She is the author of The Grotesque Child (Co-winner, 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Press Book Prize) and Cure All(Caketrain Press, 2010). Recent poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Boston Review (2018 Poetry Prize), Black Warrior Review, The Brooklyn Review, DIAGRAM, Salt Hill, POETRY, and Fractured Lit. She is a professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Catch up with her at www.kimparko.com.