A review of Henceforth I Ask Not Good Fortune by Dotty E. LeMieux

Reviewed by Kim Zach

Henceforth I Ask Not Good Fortune
by Dotty E. LeMieux
Fishing Line Press
$14.99, paper, ISBN: 978-1-64662-379-2, Dec 2020, 36 pages

Dotty LeMieux is no stranger to poetry. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including anthologies, blogs, and online at Main Street Rag, Antonym, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Writer’s Resist, Gyroscope, and many others. 

LeMieux has also published three previous chapbooks in addition to her latest offering, Henceforth I Ask Not Good Fortune. This slim volume of fifteen poems over 23 pages demonstrates a variety of subjects that at first may seem disconnected. In a quick read-through of the table of contents and a skim of the poems themselves, I pondered: “What is the common thread weaving these poems together?” 

The poet identifies herself as a political activist; indeed, she’s been a politician and is an attorney whose interests lie with environmental law and progressive politics. This focus obviously has spilled over into her poetry. The first few poems reflect a sympathetic view of those who suffer from the world’s injustices. The strong images ring true, and we realize that Lemieux has observed these scenes first-hand.

In “Woman Her World on Skids” a homeless woman wrestles with the burden of her meager possessions. Lemieux writes: “Urban traveler at a crossroads/waiting out the light/weighted by the world on skids behind her/Arms bent back holding the plastic/reins of flattened cardboard.” The folded box will become a shelter and into black plastic trash bags, the woman “has crammed husband/House, children now grown, job/in a bank or a store/or a factory in another state.” She moves with unexpected grace underneath the “cargo on her bent back not a bit/of slack in sinewy limbs, face taut as a fist, eyes/tight against unforgiving sun, not an ounce of wanting/to be here but with steadiness.”

LeMieux’s advocacy is evident in imagery that lends dignity to the downtrodden. In “Solstice” she describes a man at a food pantry as wearing a “long brown coat like a cape/ swirling around bony shoulders.” He crosses the street “cape billowing out behind his slender frame/he is transformed into a Romantic poet,” and then “strides in front of my car/stopped now to let him pass, to watch/his coat-tails fly in his wake/like autumn’s last leaves/swooshing around us.”

In “America Sends More Thoughts and Prayers,” the narrator directs our attention to “poverty and injustice/inequality and crazy on every/street corner” both present and past. The poem itself becomes a prayer, as she recites a litany of maltreated groups: felons, children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, citizens of Flint Michigan, immigrants, and the Iroquois nation.

The most effective images, however, are when those groups become individuals. She speaks of “the lady in pink who sings alone in the park, surrounded by pigeons,” “the veteran in his chair beside the shuttered window,” and “Leticia who cleans my house.” The ending accuses and commands: “We know you’ll never be able/ to make amends—/But at least get down/on your knobby knees/hang your hoary head/and cry.”

The next poems are lighter and more playful, serving as much-needed comic relief. “For a Poet I Once Loved” is a tongue-in-cheek apology—”Sorry that I took your words/for mine; but I did leave/your silk purse with the rainy day/fund; and I refrained from drinking the new wine/you were saving for inspiration.” Another apology poem, “Just to Let You Know,” is a riff on William Carlos William’s poem about eating the plums in the icebox. Lemieux writes, “I polished off/the prunes in/the cupboard/which you were probably/planning to eat/for regularity/ Sorry, I needed them/more/.

Her wry sense of observant humor continues in “The Toothbrushes are Kissing.” With an extended metaphor, she compares the toothbrushes to two lovers. She writes, “On the ledge 

under the bathroom mirror, like they are passing each/other in the hall, like two lovers working different shifts, one coming/the other going.” She describes their “bristles stiffening, reaching/out and whisking by, barely touching—an air kiss like they might be/French then back again.”

The final third of the collection returns to more somber topics. “Ah Death” is a one-sided conversation with the grim reaper. The narrator reprimands him for being a “workaholic” with lines like “Death, cut it out/Can’t you give it a rest/,” “Death, I’m on to you,” and “Death, time to take a load off.” 

LeMieux’s knack for creating vivid images continues in “Salt Hospital 1.” The patient says, “Cocooned/ in a room of my own/but nothing like what Virginia Woolf imagined” and “like some old forgotten steer/dried to sun-bleached bones/straining to reach the last salt lick/on the plains.” 

The final poem “Skip to My Lou, My Darling,” is an exercise in word play, yet the light-hearted title belies the foreboding of the first line: “Skipping, you are bound to trip.” She deftly incorporates other phrases, varying the use and meaning of skip, like “The way your heart skips a beat” and “I skipped out on the check.” The last two stanzas shift from the general to the specific:

The girl with coltish legs crossing the parking lot
her arms like sticks, and tall as a young oak
How many meals did she skip to have that
disappearing look?

How long until she vanishes altogether, her mother hoping
her schoolmates just skip the funeral
no one could prevent, no amount of square dance tunes
karaoke or prom invitations could cajole her out of?

The view is sadly breathtaking and showcases LeMieux’s greatest strength—crafting images that compel us to see the world that she sees.The poet’s uncompromising attitude towards her subject matter is the unifying thread of her poetry. The reader eventually surrenders to the juxtaposition of seemingly mismatched topics and finally comes to appreciate the variety of ways in which LeMieux accomplishes this.

About the reviewer: Kim Zach is a writer whose work has appeared in U.S. 1 Worksheets, Genesis, Clementine Poetry Journal, Clementine Unbound, Adanna Literary Journal, and Bone Bouquet. Her poem ‘Weeding My Garden’ was nominated for a Pushcart prize. She is a lifelong resident of the Midwest where she taught high school English and creative writing for 40 years. She currently works as a book coach, giving other writers the support and guidance they need to complete their projects, whether fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

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