These two strong collections of poetry from Louisiana-connected writers offer meditations on some of the hard places in life.

Mullen is an LSU professor, and the overriding theme of this collection is the loss and devastation from Hurricane Katrina. Her ideas are delivered not in soft, romantic metaphor but more in the angry snarl of an injured animal, to wit “Remediation Attempt”:

“signs gone streetlights people

lines between inside and out

destroyed in the flood the word

destroy with troy in it letters of

a word lonely meaning stopped

starts sounds”

And the thick sarcasm of “I Wandered Networks like a Cloud” in the voice of someone watching the TV coverage of the storm aftermath mocks the indifference of those removed from the disaster, all the while evoking the poet William Wordsworth’s famous lines:

“The waves beside them danced; but they

Bent weeping over loved bodies:

A poet could not but be gay,

Far from such desperate company:

I gazed - and gazed - but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought”

Mullen uses words masterfully, and seemingly more playfully, in “Collide and Coalesce”:

“Loans newer

Loans renew

Ensnare low

Loners anew”

Each of the 37 lines of this poem contains the 10 letters in words “New Orleans.”

The kaleidoscopic image of post-storm debris in the lower 9th Ward inspired “Little Landscape”:

“got out where the road went

Under wind-rippled clouds

by the field where the storm-tossed

barge crushed the houses

beautifully hyphenated word “storm-tossed”

clear bright arc down the rusted hull cutting

it into what could be shifted

in pieces the conveyance

here a tent of azure plastic

there someone’s roof on the ground

someone’s boat on a roof and mashed

car piled on car crushed torn split ruined ?”

Mullen’s poetry is not for the faint-hearted. You need to be committed to reading poetry, not afraid of the challenge. But if you do the work, the return on your effort is huge.

Heflin, director of the creative writing program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, zeroes in on life’s seminal moments in his 37-poem collection. In “Wind River Canyon,” he recalls fading images from a relationship:

“All the poems I’ve begun for you

I never wanted to write,

  • or the ones that brought you into my arms,

or even your crying over the tulips

in the window thirty years ago.

But I have no photograph of this

and my memory blurs like the wind

bending the notes of a lark over acres of prairie.”

In the oddly formatted “The Color of Money,” Heflin muses about real value of currency:

“Money is unfortunately the color of grass, pine needles, the shade beneath

these elms, even the eyes of some red-headed women, which we can never

own, and green’s the color of the dingy slough near the Ouachita where I

dug a quarter from the dirt, skipped it over the duckweed and bream beds,

over the diving loggerheads, the mudfish, all the way to the deep end under

the levee.”

The poem near the end that captures the white-knuckled anxiety of a parent with a sick child that rings true - “The CAT Scan”:

“I slip into the leather jacket, tighten the lead collar,

and at last my worry wears its own weight,

has become something more than abstraction

or superstition as it did yesterday when I went

running and told myself if I could make five miles

the X-ray would find nothing, that his little head

would look as normal inside as it looks outside,

red hair and rusty freckles, dimpled, doughy cheeks.”

Heflin captures these moments of uncertainty that come on the golf course or on a beach or at home or out driving - moments of sudden insight and often fear when no matter what we believe or what we say, there is not much we can do. We are left, as the parent in “The CAT Scan,”

“holding fast,

my hand locked around his ankle, my fingers crossed.”

DARK ARCHIVE

By Laura Mullen; University of California Press, $22.05 softcover; 130 pp.

LOCAL HOPE

By Jack Heflin; ULL Press; $9.65 softcover; 75 pp.