A different kind of freedom
is throwing rocks
into the lake and knowing the lake’s response.
In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps by Rob Schlegel is the 2018 Iowa Poetry Prize Winner. Schlegel is the author of The Lesser Fields and January Machine. He lives and teaches in Washington state.
In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps is a father’s look at the world and his place as a complete parent. Leaves make many appearances through the collection as trees are genderless as a whole, but contain both sexes to produce fertilized seed. In nature, the role of gender is different. Humans have created patterns into which everyone needs to fit. There is a freedom in nature:
Near the fountain, a few deer, rich with insides
different from mine, but the same,
incorporated as I am, though wired to nothing
The long poem “Novella” dominates this collection with a childhood view of life and parents. The role of natural elements leaves an eerie, dreamlike remembrance of bees, owls, and a terrible prophecy. The word use and lyrical quality of the writing create a haunting but compelling feeling:
The meaning I’m trying to protect is
the heart is neither boy, nor girl. I close my hand
around the stem and pull.
The third section of the collection the poet becomes the parent himself. He is the father who wishes to be the mother to his children. The long poem “Threat Perception” is his adult version of “Novella” looking at his own children — a son and daughter. There are not bees and owls but serpents and spiders. The shift from industry and wisdom to evil and fear as the poet’s view changes from child to father. The collection closes on that note with a reflection once again on trees. A thought-provoking, lyrical, and image-rich collection of poetry in line with the tradition of the Iowa Poetry Prize.