Poetry Review

By Joan Gelfand




Love Song of the On(c)e Removed

Review: “Nighthawks

by Katherine Hastings

Spuyten Duyvil press, NYC


In the genre of cancer lit, we hear a lot from the stricken, but from the loved ones of the

stricken? Not so much.

Katherine Hastings, a San Francisco native and Northern California poet of significant standing

pours her heart into an exploration of how to live one degree from a life threatening illness.

The diagnosis? It’s not fatal, but harm is rendered.

From “Wolf Spider: 3”

The surgeon’s eyes cast nets of dread. She pulls

The sonogram from its sheath. Her words

Leap on us

What bothers me most

We hang suspended

Is that the tumor

Between life and death

Looks like a spider

Cells line up like hairy legs, reach

In every direction

We are paralyzed in airless air.

Our spirits stumble toward each other,

Begin their navigation away

From the sickle of her tongue

The quicklime of her sentence.

Here is the visceral pain of lovers, sympathetic nerves vibrating together, face hard truths.

Currently serving as Poet Laureate of Sonoma (2014-2106), long time host of The Word Temple

Radio series on KRCB, an NPR affiliate, and founder of the non-profit WordTemple Poetry

Series, Hastings’ WordSeries publishing concern has published no less than David Meltzer and

devorah major. Hastings’ previous collection, “Cloud Fire,” was enthusiastically endorsed by

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gillian Conoley and Daniel Hoffman.

No end in sight.

“Nighthawks” is a glimpse through the lens of a heart aching for both personal and global

losses. To be blunt: When it comes to the subject of harm, we are all harmed. By the damage

parlayed upon the earth, by random violence, by our own fears.

From Section 2: “Fallen Leaves : After Sandy Hook”

“We wait for the sun. Will it come through

our heavy sighs? Will we be cured of

This expanse – an angel apiece

Burning so far out of reach?”

About her work, Northern California poet Gerald Fleming writes: “If there is such a thing as

fierce Buddhism, Hasting’s “Nighthawk” finds it.

Ironic, hard hitting and desperate environmental poems have their turn: But as any Buddhist

knows: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

From “Transients,” one of my favorite pieces in the collection:

“The speed of earth’s decay unhinges us, we say,

stepping on the gas to get home …

wade safely into the swells of dream-illusion

our only struggle the share of whispering sheets…

the alarm is set and ticking.”

Why poems about a school killing and environmental degradation work is exactly because of

what the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Stephen Dunn wrote in his essay “Poems of Complicity and

Outrage:” “If we (both poet and reader) are not surprised by the ending of a poem, it’s going to

end up polemical and didactic.” Hastings surprises us with the strongly worded ‘the alarm is set

and ticking’ just after the phrase ‘share of whispering sheets.’ The juxtaposition of sentiments

and hard and soft language wakes us up to the poem.

Managing the fear, anxiety and flat out helplessness of being a person in a world at risk and the

lover of a cancer victim, Hastings calls upon her strength and discipline – being fully present in

the moment, clearly committed to not becoming macabre, or bitter.

From “Wolf Spider: 5”

“Yesterday I let sightings of comets and egrets

carry me like a good dream. Today I lean

against the memory of your voice…

I lean into the smell of you. Come home.

I thought I was stronger than this.”

What I love best in Hasting’s work is her blurring of the boundaries between physical and

spiritual worlds. From “A Holy Day in New York City”

“Before us, in the forever dark,

each hour has had the light erased, except

for the light clung in our fists, kept

hot in our pockets, brought yesterday

from billions of light years away.”

By placing us in New York City and delivering the image of star light captured and brought

home, we are set into two distinct worlds: The physical and the metaphysical. This is good


Hastings employs beautiful epigraphs, particularly of Kenneth Rexroth. (The Holiness of the

real/is always there.) Rexroth, known to many as the father of the Beats, was a leader of an

aesthetic revolution in the sixties. He brought Asia to California poets – Zen and Japanese

painting, Asian philosophy and art.

There is much else here to recommend “Nighthawks.” A long meditation on Hawaii’s music and

spirit world, an ode to Oscar Grant and many meditations on nature and being. As of this

writing, Hastings has just signed a contract for a new collection. We will await with anticipation.