Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod by Traci Brimhall

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod is a collection I stumbled across while browsing Amazon, and I am so glad I did. The cover and title are what initially drew me to the collection, and after reading a small sample, I knew I needed to read this book in its entirety. Brimhall’s poetry is intricate, lyrical, and startling. It is also violent and dreamlike and intimate. It is a comingling of the Hebrew Land of Nod, Cain’s place of exile after murdering his brother, and the more whimsical Land of Nod, the realm of sleep. The poems take the forms of lullabies, murder ballads, and letters.

The collection opens with a letter to Thanatos, Greek mythology’s god of death, setting a dark and almost surreal stage for the rest of the poems: “Dear heart, you birdcage left at low tide,/what’s living in you is dark and songless” (p. 3). Letters to Thanatos and letters to Eros, Greek mythology’s god of love, appear throughout the collection, death and love becoming recurring themes as the poems’ speaker attempts to reconcile a friend’s murder, pregnancy and birth, a mother’s death, and a passionate but failing marriage. Brimhall also relies on mixing biblical and mythological stories, where both death and love often play out on grand scales: “This is the dirty Eden, stalked by envious angels./This is the land of Isaac, of knives.//We are the wish imperfectly granted, and this is the well” (“Family Portrait as Lullaby,” p. 4).

While reading, there were many poems that I now consider to be among my favorites. These include “Bedtime Story with Goodnight Moon & CNN” (p. 7), “How to Sugar for the Atlas” (p. 34), “Somnambulant” (p. 52), and “From the Buried Kingdom of Together Still” (p. 69-70). Brimhall’s skillful attention to sound also resonates throughout the collection, drawing me to individual lines and stanzas: “Hush, hush sweet godling stirring underground./Rush, rush little sprite, furling and unbound” (“Chthonic Lullaby,” p. 9). And in “Oh Wonder”: “It’s/a mammatus rolling her weight through dusk/waiting to unhook and shake free the hail” (p. 44). These are just a couple of the many moments that I lingered over.

I could go on and on, but I will end here for the sake of brevity. This is a stunning collection that will surprise a reader over and over again. I know I will be coming back to it often.

Available through the Bridges Library System

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