Stepping Over the Threshold: On the Other Side, Blue by Collier Nogues

On the Other Side, Blue

On the Other Side, Blue
BY Collier Nogues
(Four Way Books, 2011)

Before I’d even opened it, Collier Nogues’ poetry collection On the Other Side, Blue compelled me to read with the question begged by its title — on the other side of what? — and its suggestion of turning over, of crossing through. I started thinking of my life as a series of steps over thresholds — door, street, creek, mouth, skin — and, on the other side of each, what? At seventeen, I closed the door of my childhood home and, over the subsequent decades, stepped into college, marriage, child birth, buying a house, graduation — each time by choice and with awareness or at least anticipation of what would be waiting. But no one chose the threshold crossed in Nogues’ poems.

Early in the collection, “Hydrangea, Best Blue Flower” offers context for the book’s title and for many of the poems that follow:

there is no proper name
for the daughter left without a mother.
What if I want to follow?

I whispered to her
for hours what I thought she’d like to hear,

and by the time she went
I believed myself:

there was a door, and it was painted white,
and on the other side was blue.

— p. 8.

When a mother passes through the white door, her daughter must cross the threshold between before and after: an unchosen crossing into a strange world for which a daughter can hardly prepare, from which a daughter can’t return. “No one says she isn’t dead, the way we said She isn’t dying. / (That’s not even a road and there’s a shut gate at the end of it.)” (p. 12). In Section I, Nogues gives us language for that world, where grief colors landscape and memory. “The trees look soft in the fog’s distance, egg-colored light / all over them. Even the sheep, / eggy” (p. 13). “I began to notice that horses like to be together at the edge of a pasture / heads over the fence or sides against it.” (“Blurred Farm,” p. 11). And, again, from “Fort/Da”: “I fed her ice chips. / We were close to the mountain, and the trees were very near the sky, / and the sky was barely light — ” (p. 12).

As the poems of Sections II – V move through the months after the mother’s death, her passing echoes in the death of a friend’s mother, another friend’s child, a grandmother’s dementia.

When the news about your mother came
I thought I wouldn’t know what to tell you about grieving,

though when I lie flat on a wood floor I remember how I did it.
Your cotton blanket looks like my cotton blanket except yours is electric.

— “Long Weekend II,” p. 44

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