In Two Minutes of Light, Nancy K. Pearson writes about a descent into the madness of addiction and suicide attempts, and the foil to self-destruction is art itself — finding small beauty in unlikely places and transforming it into poetry. With stunning imagination, acute mindfulness, spunk, and not an ounce of sentimentality or gratuitousness, Pearson mines her despair for “minutes of light” that provide rungs toward a more livable life. While immersed in the bleak world of psychiatric wards and crack motels, the poet, almost unnervingly, writes about sea grass, milkweed, ghost crabs, and wild lilies in a way that lifts the reader back to a place of connection, like holding hands with a stranger. Pearson’s genius is her ironic voice, the immediacy of her images, and her fearless attitude. What is creativity if not the antidote to destructiveness?
There’s just one highway. The wind rears up like a circus beetle.
The setting sun hangs purple tags on the mountains
as if night were for sale too. Las Vegas tilt o’ wheels
its neon legs toward the desert —
humming seamstress of broke down and ritz
tacking embroidery floss and velvet swag on everything.
You are there, in the Women’s Correctional Institute,
sleeping on a cot in a former storage closet.
Miles away, snow wriggles through dune and pine.
Pork chops thaw in my sink; potatoes boil on the stove.
You behind a bar-pull of stars, sky-wandering
and homeless without the concrete hooks of a city.
You on the streets, cash-wadded and meth-loaded.
You, knocking out someone’s teeth.
Dear friend, I have finally stopped trying to kill myself.
Sometimes the light comes in tiny points,
shark-toothed and smaller than stars;
sometimes, it sprays over everything.
Every day my scars shrivel up — lids of rain
in a garbage can. Once I wanted to travel.
Now I’m in love with the way whole Saturdays
weigh on my back with laminate flooring and wood piling.
My girlfriend and I throw chops on the grill,
fat floats above the trees. Shaken,
sometimes the stars, the pine needles spiral gracefully.
“These poems remind me of collecting stones while walking, each one leading the way to a house in the forest. I want to say they spell redemption, but the forest has its own kind of talking and what’s extraordinary about this extraordinary book is how that world — tree, insect, rain, fish, flower, bird — has its saying and song too. I’ve never seen the world of human trauma and recovery set in what we call ‘the natural world,’ mediated by the human gaze, yes, and so blessedly indifferent to us. I read this book over and over again.” —Marie Howe
“Nancy Pearson’s poems are rife with the urgencies of constructing a self. It is a harrowing, hard-fought project. As one poem asks, ‘ By what small margins do we survive? ’ This is a book fiercely in love with the world, a book that unflinchingly examines what can keep someone from inhabiting that world, whole. Two Minutes of Light is a startling, luminous, and moving first collection.” —Kim Addonizio
“In Two Minutes of Light, Nancy K. Pearson invents visceral, exciting language to enact redemption with stunning clarity. In Pearson’s world, there is no sentimentality to redemption, no fear of the negative. She doesn’t let absolutes do the work. As with Dante, the voice changes as it travels from hell to the scary possibility of happiness. But there’s no urge to create a model, a template for behavior. Pearson works in the moment, with a keen ear and a live, fluid line. I think of the Arab poet who said he would not trade his moment of mortality for God’s omniscience. Two Minutes of Light is a dazzling voyage.” —D. Nurske, judge for the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award