But the best poets see it all, and Missoula-based poet Melissa Mylchreest is one of them. In her poem “Almanac,” she writes: “There were stories long before words./ Fish litter the banks and their stink/ climbs back up the rain. From everywhere/ out of the forest a congregation/ of fur and mouths, blood in the river’s/ teeth, the trees’ hundred hungry tongues.”
“Almanac” is part of Mylchreest’s new collection Waking the Bones, published with Bear Star Press when Mylchreest won the publisher’s Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize this year. She has won quite a few awards, in fact: the 2008 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for Poetry, the 2012 Merriam-Frontier Award,, the Obsidian Prize for Poetry in both 2011 and 2012 and she’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. (Full disclosure: Mylchreest is also a freelance arts writer for the Indy.)
If you’re a fan of Montana poet Richard Hugo, you’ll find echoes of that kind of small town, bar room, blue-collar narrative in some of her work. In the poem “Frenchtown,” she recreates the despair of men who’ve lost their jobs at the mill and wonders, “Tell me, what else can a man do, that pulp smell dogging him like a ghost?” In others, like the Gap-toothed Girl there’s moments of utter joy in the solitary rural life: “The gap-tooth girl is dancing all alone, the tin band moans, the wind outside is making blizzard song, and the West shakes off this game of lost or won.”
But Waking the Bones doesn’t stick to one theme. John Lennon and Pablo Neruda appear. So do many familiar places in Missoula. In Wandering in Cherry Gulch Mylchreest offers the words all of us sometimes think: “There are days I want to start it all/ all over again, be sent back to the beginning/ like in the game Chutes and Ladder/ sliding on that slick turn of fate.”
Waking the Bones is about savoring life, but the poems also confess to fears of death and the frustration of mortality. In “Miraculum” Mylchreest writes, “There is a dog that needs out and a cat underfoot and feet that ferry us obediently over floorboards a hundred years ago nailed down by another body got up by the sun.” The West (and sometimes the Northeast, where Mychreest grew up) is an ever-present backdrop, though she also captures the universal—what all humans feel—and tells it back to us in a way that’s both shocking and familiar.
Some days not much happens in our lives but work and obligation—here’s a book where everything happens at once with such precise, condensed truth it’s hard not to want to crawl into the pages and set up a tent in the margins, for at least awhile.
Melissa Mylchreest and Chris Dombrowski team up to tear the roof off the sucker, with poetry and feelings and stuff that is, at Shakespeare and Co., 103 S. Third St. W. 7 PM.