Essays by Anne-Marie Oomen
Wayne State University Press, $18.95
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Why do you think we have so many good writers here in the North? a doctor recently asked me.
Maybe he didnt add the good. That might be my own addition because thats how I feel, and thats what makes me proud of where I live: these good writers who circle us with golden words and take our lives deeper, make them brighter.
An American Map: Essays by Anne-Marie Oomen, is a fine book by a northern writer cutting a sometimes microscopic and sometimes a deep and wide swath into our hearts and minds.
Oomen, a writing instructor at Interlochen Arts Academy, uses moments from her life to facet experience, finding small and large truths in unusual places. Moving from Empire, Michigan, across the United States, to Puerto Rico, and back to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Oomen unrolls a different kind of landscape, a deeper travelogue, pulling unexpected meaning from unexpected places.
Stone Wounds honors the sacred. In Mount Cardigan, New Hampshire, Oomen is mountain climbing when she comes to rest against a slab of granite running with veins of quartz. long lines crossing and crisscrossing this rock like a childs script, teasing some words or a story just to the edge of recognitiona mystery, almost a meaning. I hear in the abrupt wind some question I do not understand. Then I remember, she writes.
And what she recalls are stones on her fathers farm, and his way of keeping his word to Isaac, an old Indian, who asked him not to till a particular acre of the many he owned. That single acre was sacred to the local Pottawattamie people. That was where their ancestors were buried. Near there, in her college years, Oomen came to interview the old Indian and learned the story of the Warrior Stones, living symbols of warriors who died in battle and became the striated rocks of the Indian burial grounds. . . . great dark stones marked by lines of lighter horizontal color, like layers between a cake.
At first the missionaries honored the Indian belief and invited them to set their rocks in Christian cemeteries, where the mythic warriors could be honored with the newly dead. But when the next wave of missionaries came the rocks were forbidden in the cemetery and the Pottawattamie told not to touch their rocks because they were pagan.
This one unforgivable sin of arrogance resonates in Oomen as she recalls her disrespect of that single acre as a child, when she played among the wooden crosses and tore down wooden fences to make guns.
Again, in The Underpass: Washington, D.C., there is so much wrapped and hidden. Oomen is in Washington, D.C., to watch a writing student of hers be honored at the Kennedy Center. Washington is a city she had vowed never to return to, not since being there at a war protest which seemed to sap her zeal for protest. But she is back and cant help recalling those days on the National Mall and the fact that she had forgotten socks and her feet were numb then. Now she is in high heels, hurrying toward the Kennedy Center but cant seem to get there on foot. First she is undone by the Vietnam Wall, and the sad fact that she cant remember the names of two friends who died in that war, and would be listed on the wall. And then, hurrying toward Kennedy Center she and her husband must trespass though what she thinks of as someones home. It is a rough shelter tucked against the cement pilings because the overpass keeps off the rain, protects from the sun, at least until late in the day.
A PLACE TO SLEEP
Theyve stumbled into a homeless camp, where two men have made a place to sleep of a refrigerator box and some tarp, maybe part of a tent. There is something so much of violation in what she was doing. I try not to meet their eye, the younger man utters a sound with a question in it, and I glance at him, too used to responding to voice. The other, rail thin, leaning on his elbow in a ragged sleeping bag, shakes his head at our ignorance and stupidity. He smokes a cigarette, and after we have passed, swears.
In An Essay of Supposition, Harpswell, Maine, Oomen brings it all together: the search for self, for meaning, evenin some casesfor absolution, and then loss. After staying often at a cabin in Maine, owned by Betsy, a friend, there is a phone call.
. . . it is Betsy, and she tells you the cottage is burning right then (arson, they think) and will burn to the ground, and all that soft light drains out of you, and you stare at the white shells until they seem disembodied, and you cant talk for long because you know youll lose it, and when you hang up, you do. But then you go to the computer and find every poem you ever wrote there and write some more and send them all to her.
Elizabeth Kane Buzzellis mystery, DEAD SLEEPING SHAMAN is in bookstores now. She will be celebrating the launch of the new book on May 21, 7 pm, at Brilliant Books in Suttons Bay. Everyone is welcomed to come share wine and food and talk.