The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog
University of Pittsburgh Press
Three characters fill these pages with humor, love, anger, and ironic meditation. The woman in the signature poem that names this thrilling collection inserts a profound yet humorous definition of her lifespan, full of hard work in which “…God’s love/washes right through you/like milk through a cow.” Ironically, the tulip responds by seeing blessings of its image as the stunning effect on the viewer who lusts at the site of the flower’s up-turned skirt. And the dog claims that all the other dogs smell the presence of God inside it.
The old woman has lost the beauty and serenity of the tulip and the excitement that accompanies even the “ugly stink” the dog loves. After firmly establishing this supernatural yet earthbound union, the poet begins to depict how the cycles of life progress over the years, scenes of life and death, reflection and wonder. Sometimes an event is immediately clear, and other times it takes years of events for the pattern to be understood, with the overwhelming compulsion: “I must solve my life.” In “Wrong About the Horse” the characters seem to bring the reader to realize that betrayal, expectations, and competition are all the same thing; the woman “carries grudges;” the tulip burdens itself with no expectations; and the dog thrives on the competition it considers “essential to life” to become a “top dog.” Out of all these wonderful poems, it is the old woman who envies the optimists of this world, the tulip who accepts everything and everyone as it comes, and the dog who exuberantly embraces everything—the good, bad and the ugly—with vivacious joy! These are our cycles, our loves and hates erupting out of the vicissitudes of life. The free verse style Ostriker pens is perfect for the independent, fragrant, anxious, passionate, vain, and beautiful expressions that really parallel each other, for the old woman, the tulip and the dog are you and me in all our complex and simple patterns interacting over a lifetime with the same around us—God’s blessings! Ostriker has crafted a delightful, delicious collection of poems this reviewer loves and highly recommends.