Review of The Palace of Contemplating Departure

The Palace of Contemplating Departure , Brynn Saito (Red Hen Press, 2013), Reviewed by Analicia Sotelo


The Palace of Contemplating Departure is a collection of poems that will make you feel as if you live in palace of personal histories and have to find out how they became yours. In this lovely first collection, Brynn Saito had me traveling with her speaker, a young woman with a persistent need to understand what departure has done to herself and to others. Her examination spans physical and mental landscapes. In the first section of her book, lyric poems describe a ruined American landscape where the speaker leaves New York and heads to California, as the “change [she] begged for on cold street corners comes” (26). In the second section, Saito’s speaker travels to a mythical family past; these folk tale prose poems suggests that departure, though sad, is not always an ending: “silence is a kind of waiting / for the fires to turn the land into something usable again” (46). In the third section, her speaker talks about present day relationships and admits to a dark adolescent past, saying: “I learned something about / the beautiful vein of seduction / that runs alongside everything deadly” (50). And in the fourth section, the world turns abstract; it’s a place where objects in a melancholy landscape become personified and powerful. The Moonlight says, like a friend or a mother:  “I think if you cracked half your rib/ and rubbed it dry / a man might emerge— / you are that lonely” (77). In this collection, there’s no place, palace, or state of mind where pain does not exist. Even when Saito’s language is romantic, it’s tinged with the reality of separation, like in Avignon, Early Summer, when a young, happy couple gets married “under one thousand trees” in a park that was once a site of war” (35). Even the heart and mind are sites of war, and everyone feels it. In Tuesday, 2 A.M., the speaker reads about a young boy who was killed by police when his hairbrush was mistaken for a gun. At night, she dreams “of a heart / surrounded by pistols / and the pistols pointed outward / and the muscle pumped blood” (21). In Alma, the speaker’s grandmother describes her experience in the Japanese internment camps, anticipating that her granddaughter would try to imagine it: “You never have to lie / to survive, now do you? / So what will you do / with your curious pen / and your questions like daggers” (54). Saito writes about departure with a meditative restlessness that asks if departure brings people together or rips them apart, or does both at the same time. Her powerful voice pushes on for answers, and will make you want to read more.