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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cecily Parks’ “Skylight”: A Peek into the Poetic Landscapes of O’Nights

Because Cecily Parks’ recent collection O’Nights (Alice James Books 2015) is packed with wonderful winter poems and poems discussing nature in unexpected, idiosyncratic ways, I thought a look at one of the poems in this collection would be perfect for mid-February.

In “Skylight,” a poem about two-thirds of the way into Cecily Parks' O’Nights, the neat borders between the human body and what surrounds it on any given day are dismissed, or at least not assumed to be as intact as we often presume. The body and the outside world merge and break down—often interacting in uncanny, surprising ways. And Parks’ sense of wonder about being alive on a planet pervade this poem with its child-like, voracious appetite for investigation. In “Skylight,” the speaker starts off the poem contemplating the physical world that fringes her body as she runs around a pond:

                                                     While I run around the winter pond

                                                     you are already gathering the morning

                                                     in your quadrangular eye and making

                 a blue-and-white thought of it. Is it you

                                                     or the pond that I contemplate best?    (48)

Parks is not afraid to ask questions in her poems, and these questions often begin a certain line of inquiry that prods the boundaries of things. Right away there is an ambiguity about who or what the speaker feels most intimately connected to in this poem: the “you” addressed in this poem or the presence of the pond. And who is this “you” exactly? A lover at home waking up to this day with his “quadrangular” eye or the pond itself? The pond and this “you” seem to dip in and out of each other, to be one and the same, and then not quite the same at all, and we witness the porous boundaries between the human and natural worlds.

Parks is quite often on a daily run in her poems in this book, and this athletic ritual becomes a viewing stand from which she may peruse and question the world around her. It is as if her moving body is a camera on a dolly, roving for the best shot of the scene, and, in this way, her eye is freed up to ingest with a certain immediacy whatever she comes across: “The pond I run beside is soft and wet/ when like sleep from an eye/ the mist has been wiped from it” (48). This is a poet with an unerring eye for detail and the sleepy eye of this pond is just one among many of the exquisite equations she can conjure up in her incisive, dream-like similes and metaphors.

The speaker in these poems is also a restless one, intent on forging new, unexpected links between the natural and human spheres, between self and other.  No boundary is safely intact in a Cecily Parks poem. As a result, the speaker in “Skylight” is not content to remain as observer and seeks to connect with the nature she observes:

        I would like to wade, trap the clouds

                                            in my pond-wet hands and swallow them.

        Skylight, if you could see me you would know

        that I know the hunger—your hunger—

        to have the sky inside you.    (48)

This “swallowing of clouds” and hunger for sky show an adamant speaker who is willing to ingest nature in whatever way possible, determined to become enveloped within it. She even appears to metamorphose, almost Daphne-like, into a part of the natural world, with her “pond-wet” hands.

I enjoy the playful, probing intellect alive in the poems in O’Nights and the fact that full-blown conversations are conducted with the skylight in a non-plussed, unapologetic manner. Any assumptions of what a poem confronting natural landscapes can become fall away immediately once a reader steps into these poetic landscapes, which seem busy collaging together the innumerable textures any given physical landscape can offer up. And, in this poet’s hands, a not small amount of magic occurs as doorways swing open in the poems, doorways asking us to consider wider and more unsettling connections between ourselves and what surrounds us as we stroll, run, or navigate the physical world that accompanies us in our daily lives.

Parks, Cecily. “Skylight.” O’Nights. Farmington: Alice James Books, 2015. Print.


  1. Lovely analysis, Alexandra. Excellent lunch break reading. :)
    (Seriously, I'm back to work now...) Jen

    1. Thanks for taking a moment to read this mini-review, Jen. I'm glad it made good company for your lunch break:).

    2. Thanks for taking a moment to read this mini-review, Jen. I'm glad it made good company for your lunch break:).