Katie Manning, 28,065 Nights (New Orleans, LA: River Glass Books, 2020).
The latest offering from Point Loma Nazarene University professor and Whale Road Review editor Katie Manning consists of twenty prose poems unified by their subject matter: Manning’s memories of “Wanda Faye Henson, my Granny” (23). The title poem, which closes out the book, begins with an echo of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights. Linking herself to Scheherazade, whose stories were spells that tamed a royal husband’s murder-lust, Manning writes, “I tell your stories to keep myself alive” (20). While the title of the Middle Eastern classic references the number of nights it took Scheherazade to win Shahryar’s love, the title of Manning’s book appears to reference the length of her granny’s life (almost seventy-seven years). Like One Thousand and One Nights, 28,065 Nights tells a love story, albeit a filial love rather than a romantic one.
Manning lovingly remembers her family’s departed matriarch through vivid sense memories that make readers feel like they intimately knew her. We learn tidbits that Manning’s granny passed on to Manning, like that there was a time when “young, poor girls used vanilla extract as perfume” (“How to Use Vanilla”) and that “you really can’t see the other side” of the Pacific Ocean (“How I Measure Your Body”).
We also learn from the poet’s often surreal observations that socks can smell “light blue” (“I Sniff Your Socks”), that “Death is the egret dropping fresh young birds into the swamp with barely a ripple” (“Your Death Explained in Birds”), and that one half of a sandwich can taste better than the other, even if they’re identical (“I Haven’t Eaten Fried Bologna Since You Died”).
These prose poems are touching, even sorrowful at times. We learn that Manning’s great-grandparents once had a miscarriage (“Thomas Anthony”) and that Manning’s granny didn’t live long enough to meet Manning’s son, Julian (“The Baby You Didn’t See”). Although the poems grieve, they don’t wallow in sadness. I felt uplifted after reading them, the way I feel at a funeral when a eulogy rings true. “Which Way Do You Want To Go” and “Twenty Years Before You Died” especially made me think that John Donne may have been right when he wrote, in “Holy Sonnet 10,” about death not being so mighty or dreadful. “I stood up at your funeral and told this story” is the closing sentence of her poem about a remembered act of kindness (“When Your Granny Panties Saved Me”), and the best of these prose poems accomplish what the best orations at funerals accomplish: they tell us that this person touched people while living on this earth and that she continues to have an impact on those she left behind. Like an inspiring biography, this book will fill readers with admiration for the departed and the ambition to leave legacies of our own.