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Crossing the Waters
by Norita Dittberner-Jax

(Nodin Press)

In "A Hotel", the preamble poem to Crossing the Waters, Norita Dittberner-Jax sketches out the theme of her latest collection:


There are two truths—

the truth of going forward,

our reveling in the city, and

the truth of loss, of age,

your faltering, our sorrow.


The "faltering" refers to her husband Gene's diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease. The crippling progress of his ALS is depicted in many of the poems—walking with a cane, and later in a wheelchair, as in "There Are Days", when they meet a mother and her young daughter in the checkout line at Macys:


I looked away to where you and the child

had come to an arrangement, you, playful,

showing your turns, she interested.

On the way home, I was quiet, thinking

of that mother when you told me,

"That little girl thought I was a magic figure,

half-man, half-car."


Before the backdrop of these "two truths," Dittberner-Jax brings us on a last trip to Mexico, for a morning on Lake Pepin, into dreams and leaf buds, and on a simple stroll down the streets of Saint Paul. From "City Neighborhood":


Its houses and gardens shaped

the architecture of my days,

porches, the front stoop,

the way I lived and thought,

the juxtaposition of light and stone


And mortality? A wisp of mys­ticism pervades Crossing the Waters, as it did in her previous collection, Stopping for Breath. Norita Ditt­berner-Jax is neither a Bohemian in a garret nor an anchorite in a cave, but in poems such as "The Window Fac­ing West" there is a subtle, homespun profundity that seeps in slowly from between the lines:


How can losing the light be sweet?

How can the waning days

of your strength be tender?


In a metaphorical sense, Crossing the Waters is a journey to a different state of mind, the spirit rising as the body fails. The last lines of "Even­song" take leave of us in an autumnal reverie:

                                A chill

from the woods touches my arm.

How we come to evening.


- Joel Van Valin