2 a.m. with Keats

Nixes Mate Books, 48 pages, $15.00

As I read Eileen Cleary’s 2 a.m. with Keats, I felt breathless, suspended in a place of red keys, plum stones, cats, willows, and sphinxes. It would minimize the reach of this brilliant collection to call it an elegy or a eulogy, or even a love story to Lucie Brock-Broido or John Keats – though it is all of those things. Here, in this place where “the elm says Grief and the oak, Grief,” the poems shine and scatter across the pages like “a phantom of stars.” Cleary engages the rhythms of another world, of “sweet music honeyed and unheard,” where “Lucie reaches forty years back. . . .” Embracing the quirkiness of Brock-Broido’s imagery and the love of Keats’s line, Cleary creates a séance of astronomy, searching for the origins of human and poetic magic, where “looking for signs means I’ve / once been broken.” I will return to 2 a.m. with Keats again and again, to remember Lucie and Keats, to inhale “rose milk . . . mint.”

Jennifer Martelli, author of In the Year of Ferraro 

What a superb and deeply moving book! Every line is startlingly fresh and tender, and the extreme spareness of the poems is strange in the most necessary way. (“Strange” always being the highest compliment I could give any work of art.) These elegies express a fierce attention to the beloveds’ absence, as well as to any hint of their continued presences, manifesting in ways that are seemingly mundane (“the shift of dishes in their rack”) and interplanetary. There’s an old saying that when a teacher dies, their power increases a hundredfold. I can’t thank Eileen Cleary enough for this book-length aubade, in which parting somehow expands love from a local point into infinity.

Patrick Donnelly, author of Little-Known Operas