(Review published in New Orleans Review, October 2018)
In the middle of Josephine Yu’s Prayer Book of the Anxious, the speaker in “Prayer to Saint Joseph: For the Restless” pleads for this patron saint not to lead us away “when unease thickens like lime calcifying // in the porcelain basins of our chests.” By the end of the poem, the speaker notes a friend who “stepped off a bridge, holding hands with his loneliness.” The unease has compounded into intolerable pain. Within this range, Yu situates one of her main tropes in this book: the struggles with what pains us, what keeps us alive.
The speaker concludes: “Still our hands as we pack. Remind us the roughest fabric / of the self will end up folded like a sweater / in the suitcase, pilled and raveled and transcendent.” Without “of the self” and “transcendent,” this passage dwells in plain observation. The plain-spoken speaker folds and orders the roughest and pilled fabric one has worn. All is safe and packed away. It seems the self is put away for later use, protected from the turmoil of one’s life. One escapes the pain. Is this escape temporary or permanent? What are the consequences?
The last word “transcendent,”…