Tour of the Breath Gallery

Tour of the Breath Gallery, Poems
Texas Tech University Press, 2013

“The stakes in Strong’s sharply etched and crafted poems are high: language that summons us to compassion, responsibility, gratitude for being alive.”

—Joy Ladin

“Strong is the real thing.”
—Stephen Burt

“Strong’s poems resonate in the senses and quicken the mind, but settle finally in the heart.”
—Vivian Shipley

“Sarah Strong’s voice in their debut collection is quiet, but the stakes in these sharply etched and crafted poems are high: language that summons us to compassion, responsibility, gratitude for being alive. Strong’s lyricism reminds us of our interconnectedness, the common denominators that marry “self” to “other,” “I” to “we,” human to the web of biological, emotional, historical and spiritual relationship in which we love, struggle, sing.”
—Joy Ladin

In Tour of the Breath Gallery, Sarah Pemberton Strong explores how our subtlest gestures articulate our most passionate concerns. Strong maps the intricacies of the body—the fingers of a hand, the work of breathing—with the same dexterity they bring to investigating what inspires a mother to demolish a kitchen wall or a lover to change genders. Strong also examines the qualities of spiritual experience—in Buddhist practice, in re-imagined biblical narratives, and in the details of daily life. Formally alert and often funny, with an ear for the music of everyday speech, Tour of the Breath Gallery guides us through the interplay of the domestic and the sublime with a wise and generous grace.

Moving a Baby Grand

The piano is hauled in, a captured elephant,
legless, enormously dismaying on its side,
blanketed against making a sound

yet too dignified to show humiliation.
Up the stairs, such massive weight
doesn’t seem possible, and yet

there they go, three men sweating
with the effort of making a living.
At last in our apartment, they screw the legs

back on. And I remember—
this old piano’s white keys
are made of sawed-off tusks;

sometimes the metaphor for suffering
turns out to be the suffering itself.
At which point I stop watching the work

and go into the kitchen for three glasses
of ice water, which I give to the movers,
because if you want the world

to be less burdened with cruelty
and indifference, this moment you
are standing in would be the ideal

fulcrum from which to lift a finger,
even if it is only to play a single note,
say, the F above middle C;

though the piano deserves Beethoven;
the moving men, champagne;
the elephant, the world.

Originally published in Mississippi Review