The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog

  • Review
By – January 8, 2014

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.

Deb­o­rah Schoen­e­man, is a for­mer Eng­lish teacher/​Writing Across the Cur­ricu­lum Cen­ter Coor­di­na­tor at North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my High School and coed­i­tor of Mod­ern Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture: A Library of Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism, Vol. VI, pub­lished in 1997.

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