Come ‘Put Your Hand in Mine’ and escape to the natural world

Put Your Hand in Mine
Elaine Woo, 86 pgs, Signature Editions,, $17.95

Clawing from the bottom of a well at the unforgiving stone walls of materialistic society’s demands, Elaine Woo gazes longingly toward the natural world. The pressures placed upon women surface, revealing an image of malcontent that can be merely as uncomfortable as returning a pair of black jeans or as wretched as getting “Hoovered in again” by narcissistic abuse.

Despite the speaker’s intermittent companions, women’s suffering is magnified by their broken friendships. The veneer demanded of women tethers them to a life without depth, characterized by mutual disapproval. This reproach is typified by the speaker’s mother, who “closets” her “in early death.” Meanwhile, stronger bonds are lost to bullies like cancer, which seep from the contaminated earth.

Complacency with toxicity as women’s lot in life evaporates at “Stoking the Sirens.” Suddenly, the speaker’s life is lightning struck by a horrifying attack. Most disturbing, she intuits the attack. For, how could a world teeming with noxiousness not revert to violence against women, the life-givers? This poem exposes the underlying rage that ignites the stressors of everyday life.

I felt numb to the remaining poems as they marched on. Woo’s hope lies in reconnecting with nature in the last poems, which offer empowerment and healing: “lively communion / leached through this isolate cloak.” Still, I remain cynical, “wishing I could buy into that.” I remember the fraught mother who must hastily abandon her “forest bathing” meditation when she realizes she’s late to retrieve her children — we try to reconnect with our natural roots and seem always to be interrupted, at times by bewildering brutality.

Yet, for Woo, reconnection with nature is our only chance. Women must take one another by the hand and re-enter the forest and the sea, if we want to survive.