Poems By Donna Trussell


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One of SLATE'S "Best Books for 2008"!!!

I want to put in a word for my friend Donna Trussell's new collection of poems, What's Right About What's Wrong. Each one is a compact little rock of Texas Gothic, thrown hard. (Think Flannery O'Connor in verse, with less God and more rodeo.) Even before Trussell was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001—she got the call telling her to report for surgery while watching the Twin Towers fall—her work, as she says, "tended toward death, death, pet death, sex, love, death.'' But fierce or yearning, I love these ghosts—like Miss Candace Mayes, who surrendered her place in the last lifeboat off the Titanic to a mother who died years later of guilt, in an asylum where "Her hands would climb the trellis. Her feet were never still.'' Of a daughter never conceived who calls, "[G]ive me your darkest winter, it will be spring to me.'' And of a poet read posthumously, who can't help asking, "Who are you? What do you do? Tell me, is the sun out?' "

—Melinda Henneberger


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I recently received an e-mail from Donna Trussell requesting permission to reprint one of my poems on her website. I clicked on her website and an hour later I knew I had stumbled into a treasure trove. Trussell has an impressive resume and her accolades are well-deserved. Now, she has released a book of poetry titled What's Right About What's Wrong. The book is divided into three sections, each offering spare, beautifully rendered descriptions of lives lived fully. The collection crosses continents, time and space.

Donna and I are both long-term ovarian cancer "survivors" (a term we both eschew). While most poems about cancer focus on the experience of patients and their loved ones, Donna sees the world from "both sides now," as in the following poem:

The Oncologist and Her Ghosts

Her nightmares are blizzards –--
words swallowed by wind,
and faces frozen
beneath ice and snow.

She wakes with a start.
She rises, lies down, comforts
herself with memories
of another time

before cities, before textbooks
before patients who smiled
and joked and died.
No matter what she did, they died.

She recalls a night
on her father's farm.
Southern gusts swayed
the moon-tipped trees.

Above her were the only
gods she knew. She made a pact:
The stars would protect her
and she would save lives.

She was just a child then,
even in Nebraska
summer seemed endless
and full of promise.

This collection is packed with a mélange of tasty morsels–wit, pathos, delight, betrayal–life.

French Movies

Crumbling white houses,
cats, attics,
cream and fresh parsley,
a translucent blue dress.

No one speaks in a rage
or a whisper.
I'm pregnant, she says,
calm as a nun.

Reading What's Right About What's Wrong reminds me of eating thimbleberries: after the initial tartness startles the senses, a sweetness lingers on the tongue. I want more and you will too.

—Jane Levin



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Publication Date: 1 August 2008
Pages: 62; Size: 6 x 9
ISBN 978-1-884235-40-9
$9.95; Paper

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