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Ash Steps

by M. Travis Lane

The 14th book of poetry by M. Travis Lane is an exploration of memory, longing, and contemplation. There is a quietness, an insular element to Lane’s verse, and her hushed poetics focus on themes of mortality and love. The poet dives deep into the well of loss, and swims in the depths of grief. In “Waiting,” she writes, “You told me once you wished to drown, / to swim out, let the long tide take / you to the ocean’s rim. That’s what / it’s doing now, I think. You float. / You do not swim.”

Landscape, ocean, and nature play important roles in Ash Steps. In “The Hill Cemetery at St. Martin’s,” Lane recalls the cliffs, trees, and rivers that make up the New Brunswick landscape: “All these, and even the sea, may change. // We hang on as we can, dear hearts. / But not much lasts.” Within this reorientation of place, the poet forms profound, transformative insights into what it means to be human. In “How Long?” she explores the contradictions and complexities of letting go: “Sometimes the dimmed self wakens, / knows: ‘That’s who I am!’ / then sinks back into strangeness and the dusk.” Uncertain if there is a reason to return from the woods, she offers this advice in “Temporarily Lost”: “Just to lie down like a shed snake skin / and let the soul (if there is a soul) / ooze from the flesh like steam from a cold spring / that on a warm day turns to smoke.”

In “Dream World,” Lane explores the unconsciousness of dreams from a position of stillness, the unmoving body bound by sleep. “What’s Left” is a poem of reconciliation, a tribute to loss. Ash Steps charts the journey of widowhood, the stages of grief, and questions what remains.