Poetry Sunday: ‘Omens,’ by Danusha Laméris

These first four images drawn from nature in their turn tutor us in how to interpret the more personal, human images that follow in lines 9-10, and we understand with devastating immediacy that the child’s bed is permanently empty and that a brother has been murdered. This is loaded material, the kind difficult to present without melodrama or bathos, but the poet avoids both pitfalls with her masterful restraint and verbal sleight-of-hand. The restraint comes in the language itself, facts offered with few modifiers or details. Few, but very powerful. Consider for example, the difference between “the empty bed” and “the child’s empty bed.” Restraint comes also in what is not said. We are not told outright that a child and brother died but are instead informed of the deaths by way of death’s aftermath: a bed left unslept in, a hole torn through the heart. And rather than being told how the speaker feels about these terrible losses, we are made to feel them ourselves. The small bed makes us ache and the bullet hole becomes a metaphorical emptiness hollowed out in the hearts of loved ones left behind.

Another way the author avoids melodrama is by pulling back quickly from the poem’s direst events, directing our attention elsewhere, outside the house where a mailman “drops a package” and a dog barks incessantly. Neither mailman nor dog would give much pause in another context, but here they take on an element of menace. What package, we wonder, was dropped; could it be the brother’s ashes? Why won’t the dog stop barking? We sense danger, an inability to be consoled, but the only clue we get to the speaker’s feelings is in her actions. She “treads lightly” and, unable to “know what comes next” speaks carefully, saying things (about a tree blooming, deer antlers, and animal tracks) that in another context would appear neutral and normal as weather. But in this poem of terrible unspoken personal loss, the reader by now knows that things are not what they seem. They are, in fact, converted by tone into strange and even frightening paradoxes. A plum tree blooms early, and rather than taking it as a sign of spring, we worry about drought or pollution. Did the buck shed its antlers in the normal course of things, or were they (like the forced bloom) ripped off prematurely, maybe by the very mountain lion whose paw prints track up the poem’s last line? We are left in a state of unease, pondering these questions and coming on our own to the realization that only those lucky enough to be untouched by tragedy can live without reading the world and its experiences as omens, the portents of some larger and quite possibly darker thing to come.


Read more of our popular Poetry Sunday columns here.


Paradise Drive book coverRebecca Foust’s fifth book, “Paradise Drive,” won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and was reviewed in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the 2015 American Literary Review Award for Fiction, the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2014 Constance Rook Creative Nonfiction Award, and fellowships from the Frost Place, MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and West Chester Poetry Conference. “Paradise Drive” can be ordered at www.press53.com. For more information visit rebeccafoust.com.


Recommended For You

Poetry Sunday: “Chimneys: A History of East Texas,” by Betty Adcock

Adcock_by Tai Lane Ruinsky_11-18-15Because the lines in the poem are all of roughly equal length, each section looks like a column or chimney, with the stacks getting shorter as the poem proceeds, so that the poem is also held together visually on the page.


Poetry Sunday: “Survival: A Guide,” by Cleopatra Mathis

SONY DSCIn the heron, the speaker sees herself, aging and threatened by predators: foxes on the ground and the devastatingly inescapable “ruthless, overhead patrol.” But also, like the heron, kept going by some “blind” (not a matter of will) life force.


Poetry Sunday: “Adjectives of Order,” by Alexandra Teague

AlexandraTeague_11-9-15How do we, who have never known this kind of war and devastation respond to suffering like this? Everything we have to offer, including the language we offer it in, is of us, tainted by a perspective that cannot empathize with the plight of war refugees like this student.


Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Marian Dornell March 6, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you for introducing me to this poet. She is inspiring. Her poem is brave and honest in the face of great loss. I shall be a fan!
    As usual, your explication is helpful as the reader finds her own way to the heart of what the poem means to her.
    Thank you both!

  • Liana Badr March 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Wonderful poetry

  • Anne Arsenault March 6, 2016 at 7:19 am

    A haunting poem which speaks more and more every time you read it.
    Thank you, Rebecca