You are the home that made
all other homes just thresholds…
From “The Day of Your Proposal”
Sierra DeMulder’s Ephemera is a powerful follow-up to the much-lauded Today Means Amen and emotionally fraught We Slept Here. DeMulder returns to fractured relationships, processes life-changing events, and ultimately reconciles with her past in her most mature, nuanced collection to date. Readers familiar with DeMulder’s work will be at home with Ephemera, which taps into her keen ability to balance trauma with inner peace. This is a collection well worth the wait, and it proves once again that DeMulder deserves a permanent place in conversations around American poetry.
The collection opens with a definition of “ephemera,” immediately evoking the title and DeMulder’s fixation on impermanence across each section of the book. The first section opens with a series of poems that establish the author’s layered understanding of ephemera in her own life. “Waiting” chronicles the last days of the speaker’s grandmother, culminating in the realization that “I was wrong; my grandmother/isn’t waiting for death…It is/the living who wait.” The next poem, “Driving Through Pennsylvania in Autumn,” centers loss, with the speaker noting “how every room in nature/becomes a funeral” while internalizing the fact that “None of us are going back.”
Impermanence becomes especially present and addled with grief in the third poem, “Choice,” which begins with the speaker believing she is pregnant and culminating in her sitting outside a Dunkin’ Donuts “bent at the wait/from [her] own body spilling itself.” Together, these poems establish a tone of intense vulnerability, but each is markedly devoid of self-pity. Instead, DeMulder continually pulls the reader back to a place of acceptance. As the collection progresses, the speakers grow ever closer to the understanding that things can be both temporary and beautiful, culminating in the titular poem, which celebrates “the ecstatic briefness of it all.”
Amidst this exploration of impermanence, DeMulder crafts numerous poems about past relationships, growing ever closer to her partner and eventual wife, and the difficult journey to motherhood. These poems are grounded in grace, even at the most challenging times. Speakers give themselves permission to feel, to be imperfect. This permission serves as a catalyst for closure in “The Day I Told You I’ve Moved On,” which describes the “gentleness that passed between” former lovers and the “polite hug” with which they part, a surprisingly soft and measured end to a relationship that has clearly lingered with the speaker for years. “Now, Again” again evokes the past as the speaker and her lover come together again after “two presidents, a birth, a birth,/a lanyard of funerals.” This time, though, the speaker admits, “I am still shocked I get to love you again.”
The movement of this relationship operates in tandem with DeMulder’s treatment of pregnancy and motherhood. “How We Are Carried” begins a beautiful, if painful, journey as the speaker sharing that “fetal cells stay/in the carrier’s body…even if they/are not born alive.” The following poems, “How to Define You” and “Ectopic,” contextualize this realization as the speaker comes to terms with the trauma of losing her baby. As the collection progresses, readers encounter the speaker fearful of announcing a new pregnancy, mourning a miscarriage, and coming to terms with the doubt that accompanies each pregnancy. The journey comes full circle in “The Fawn,” where the speaker describes seeing two fawns at the roadside on the day she takes a pregnancy test, telling her child that she wondered “if it was you and the one taken from my body.” The poem ends with a single fawn, which the speaker believes to be “the lost sibling on the other side of time.”
Ephemera tracks loss from all corners of life, but it resists the urge to define loss in terms of absence. Rather, DeMulder settles, again and again, into a space of appreciation for what was. This is a collection that stares into the trope of staying present and gets it right.