Review of Katherine Gekker's In Search of Warm Breathing Things

Katherine Gekker

In Search of Warm Breathing Things

Glass Lyre Press


Katherine Gekker’s collection, In Search of Warm Living Things from Glass Lyre Press is an elegiac sweeping look at life in the middle of chaos and entropy. While exploring the emotional landscapes of being a caretaker of an aging and dying parent and of being a partner in a collapsing alcohol-sodden marriage, Gekker seeks order, control, and catharsis. Through the emotional gauntlet, Gekker wrangles poems that not only process pain and grief, but temper it, transform it into an angry beauty.

Broken into four sections, Gekker’s primary poesy is elegy, though there are a few lyrics and “odes” or celebratory poems sprinkled throughout, Gekker walks around an emotional equivalent of a wasteland. Addiction and mental health are direct roadblocks in the speaker’s path; the learned behaviors taken on by the non-addictive partner offer no comfort, no guidance in a relationship that has become a kind of unending maze of woe, for everyone. Much of Breathing Things finds the speaker angry, fighting bitterness, in search of peace.

The opening poems, “Past Tense” and “Time Will Tell” frame the collection’s exigency, loss of a loved one, in this case through death, not addiction. “You begin to speak to me/in the past tense--” she begins, “As if I am the one leaving....Beneath cryptomeria, a lone cypress,/ we sow your ashes.../They gleam against dark earth./ Our eyelashes grow silver.../This is who I was--a girl in the rain at night.” In “Time Will Tell” the speaker waits through a hurricane while a loved one sits in pain. Nature’s violence outside “trunks jerk”, “boughs snap” and mirrors the internal violence of a dying parents’ final hours, an unseen havoc as organs fail and flesh falters. Gekker lays out the narrative of her mother’ death in measured poetic doses, mimicking the grieving process where time warps, as consciousness is transformed, enlarged with memory, and the ever present present. Gekker moves the reader through memories that refract the whole of the relationship, and sometimes the anger cuts, especially as Gekker addresses a failing marriage.

“The World Trembles, The World Masquerades” ripples with danger, “May, acid green like a new/snake, past scorchewalked August/into September.” It’s a confession of an affair, the transformative serpent of desire, of knowledge. The speaker’s secret affair has changed her, and isolates her from her long time lover. The poem’s structure snakes and breaks, as the poem moves into its second half where the speaker experiences a hallucinatory walk in the fog. This walk finds the speaker alone, questioning the ”Something-- an airborne/ dazzled, glittered...No one else/noticed anything.” The only person whom the speaker can share this experience with is the long time lover whom the speaker is straying from. It’s an aching, shimmering moment that opens the second section of Breathing Things; elegy, rooted in marriage, and addiction.

“To Cast A Shadow Again” is an eight section movement that crosses the landscape of a relationship. The poem is frosty as winter, even as Gekker moves through the seasons, as the speaker “want<s> to hold -/one green branch on a hibernating tree”, or “held fireballs” in her mouth. At times the couple are t