There is an undeniable reflection and frightening sense of solitude that is usually associated with the inevitability of death. When such loss occurs, some people turn to writing poetry in the hopes of reflecting on the memories left behind as well as to fill that void of loneliness. From this genre of poetry, Norita Dittberner-Jax, does a superb job of touching on her own experiences with death through the power of reflection and through her acceptance of solitude in the beautifully written Now I Live Among Old Trees. Dittberner-Jax visits the memories of her time with Cancer and the sad demise of her husband, Eugene, to ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
At seventy-four pages and over fifty-six poems, the book is arranged into three parts: a section of poems reflecting on the last days of her husband’s moments with her and another section filled with ten poems addressing Eugene after his passing. The second part explores Dittberner-Jax’s distant memories of her early childhood, of her parents, of her chemotherapy, and of her visits to Eugene’s place of rest. The third part brilliantly divides twelve poems by each month of the Gregorian calendar and life events connected to those years.
While most of the poems are brief and one-pagers, readers will quickly recognize Dittberner-Jax’s mastery of telling a story in relatively short lines. For example, the poem “Courage,” interestingly conveys the loneliness she feels during chemotherapy in just five small stanzas of two lines each which powerfully ends, “To be brave / walking into a room / To be the only one / woman without hair.”
Another poem “July: Philando Castile,” written in prose form, pays homage to Philando Castile, the thirty-two year old African-American wrongfully killed by a police officer during a traffic stop, by recounting the events of his funeral at the famous St. Paul Cathedral in Minnesota. A section reads, “[…] we came together / for Philando who should have lived a long life, should / have been there to bury his mother and instead she buried him / like a nobleman.”
The poems in this work embody the very nature of reflection and acceptance of solitude that is associated with death; they personify the sage, somewhere living among old trees, enlightening those seeking their own truths about mortality, about loss, and about being strong enough to preserve despite the odds.
— Thomas Maldonado