Home isn’t just where the heart is. As shown in the compelling anthology “The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home,” it is also where we die, discover who we are, learn how to walk away and, in many cases, find ourselves again.
Introduced by memoirist and co-editor Pamela Mittlefehldt, this collection of essays and poems is as diverse as its authors, who include American Indian writer Joseph Bruchac, whose Abenaki ancestry appears in many of his more than 100 titles; novelist and poet Marge Piercy, perhaps best known for her classic “Woman on the Edge of Time,” and poet Mark Vinz, a retired professor at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, and three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award.
All lyrical, some whimsical, several dark and many hopeful, the almost 100 works included in “The Heart of All That Is” show the many and varied sides of “home,” which can both protect and imprison, contain amazement and abuse, and be as much a state as a place. The narrator of Ann McGovern’s poem “75 1/2 Bedford Street, the Edna St. Vincent Millay House,” reminds how even an inadequate, too-small house can become too beloved to consider letting go: “Who will live here next? / Who will grow my strawberries in the patch of earth? / Who will hear my whispering ghosts, / then pick up her pen and write.”
Also included is the lush and magical poem “House of Dreams and Stars and Life,” which is perfectly placed at the end. Its words and rhythms form images and feelings as sweet as a parent’s goodnight kiss, as the narrator’s “willowy fragile house” becomes “an ark of wishes, / a shelter to hold ideas in place and warm the body all at once, / decorated with lucky charms, iconic family pictures / a history of mysterious dreams / and lights in the window seen from far away.”
There also are humor and delight, and on each page a mirror. Because no matter what aspect of home is being tackled, it’s one all readers can somehow relate to and in some way know.
Taken in small hunks or all at once, the works in “The Heart of All That Is” are readable, sincere, sometimes disturbing, but always engaging. It’s a book that, despite some unavoidable clichés, reminds us to remember where we come from, as well as where we want to be.
Cindy Wolfe Boynton is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and writing instructor.