“We are all one question and the best answer seems to be love — a connection between things.” Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures.
Love is difficult subject to write about masterfully in poetry. And yet, Ray Ball’s chapbook Lararium (2020, Variant Lit) is about love, and hers is a well done collection of poems. Central to this collection are the complications of the relationship between a daughter and her father, and writing about the love she undoubtedly has for him.
In the first poem, Moving Day, she elegantly uses personification with the line “delicate hope in bones” to show her life long yearning for recognition from her father. She has always wanted to engender feelings of intensity from her father as seen with her striking uses of the term “fire ants” and the line “frenzy of a feast more consuming than bloodlust.”
“Lararium” refers to a shrine of deities in an ancient Rome home. Ball uses allusion to ancient myth throughout her poetry. One example is the poem Medusa. The author uses the snakes on the head of the gorgon (one of three sisters who had the power to turn people into stone just by looking at them) as a symbol of her own relationship with her father. She says “snakes always my company” and just like Medusa she apparently has the power to elicit stoicism in her father. In this way, she is taking some of the power back from her father in their difficult relationship. However, also just like Medusa she is mortal, as seen in the line “cannot shed their skins.”
Snakes are a consistent symbol in many of the poems in this collection. In The Color of Fangs she is able to “hold onto the memory” of a snake winding around her, but is unable to “spit the venom out.” She implies how difficult it is to rid herself of what poisons her as if it were the venom from a snake as she shows her inability to release herself from painful memories intertwined with those of early familial love.
All of the poems in this collection have excellent imagery. Ball holds in her hands family experiences and lights them on fire, but there is more to these poems than the luminous language she has obvious command over. There is hope in these poems as well, as seen in Material Causes, especially in the line “Miracles still burst past sin.” The rhythm in many of the poems works very well to emphasize the author’s points. In Burial Instructions the line “I confess I killed a goldfish” is used twice, perhaps to emphasize her very human mistake to universalize complications of love and relationships with others and the self.
In the last poem, Love is a Scale, the author uses the title to define her collection. She ends the collection reminding us that the snake symbolizes the anger and love she feels for her father. She is angry that what she has loved has repeatedly bitten her with venom. At last, she shows us that she has chosen “to reach in.”