"Go back to the garden," Danielle Cadena Deulen writes in "Tomato," from her Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize winning collection Lovely Asunder, a book concerned with those lapsarian moments at which everything changes—the apple is eaten, the pomegranate tasted, violence committed, a decision made—and with the resultant consequences.
In "Interrogation," a child with bloody knees crouches in a garden while her father yells and brandishes a gun. "How do you know," the poem asks the child, "that you are the summation of a lifetime / of desire?" The trope of the garden and its connections with desire and loss form a backbone for the book as this incident and its implications are returned to, along with more explicit references to the catalytic moments of Eve and Persephone.
"When a woman leaves, / she becomes a scandal," Deulen writes in the persona of Lilith in "The First Wife," and this aspect of the Fall is also important here. Leave-taking, especially women's, isn’t straightforward in these poems. In "Apologia Pro Vita Sua," a pregnant Catholic woman leaves her ambivalent lover only to miscarry later. The speaker in "Summer Wasps" remembers the hidden remains of a girl she and friends "dared each other to walk past, / …not knowing what the stink / meant." The policeman who later investigated the scene implied guilt, saying “we couldn't play there anymore and anyway / why would we want to, did we know something…." The speaker internalizes the suggestion of wrongdoing and connects the death with her own emergent womanhood, so that, having left home, "I could / never find my way back and by then I was a woman so / anyway why would I want to; I knew something about that."
Lovely Asunder is a beautiful first book of poems whose ferocity of subject matter and feeling add piquancy to its lyric sensibilities. Though Deulen risks cliché in connecting childhood trauma and womanhood with the myths of Eve and Persephone, the poems here are entirely fresh in their perspectives, honesty, and idioms. Rather than rehearsing a tired metaphor they reawaken it and further broaden its amplitude.