I sat motionless at my desk, breathing shallowly, my fingers resting on my laptop’s keyboard. He knocked again, waited, knocked a little louder, waited. Under the apartment door, his feet cast shadows on the dark green linoleum. I didn’t make a sound. Finally, he went on his way, footsteps receding. After a minute, the hall lights, which were on a timer, clicked out, and there was only darkness under the door.
The phone had rung a few times the previous day, and I hadn’t answered. I knew who was calling. It was the same man who had just knocked: not a stalker or a creep, actually, but the Swiss composer who lived across the hall, an affable, fortyish guy with a mop of dark curls. I’d met him in the elevator earlier in the week. According to Google, he composed operas—not just any operas: underwater operas. (In related news, it turns out there are underwater operas. The world is a marvelous place!)
Penelope Shuttle need not walk any faster – as this, her 14th collection, demonstrates. It is the gentle pace that captivates in her poems. And what a phenomenal poet she is (she has recently celebrated her 70th birthday). She has an unbossy, contemplative, unmistakable voice. She leads you quietly and helps you see things – London especially – afresh. There is nothing stale about the way she writes, although she is thinking about what it means to be older.
“It takes courage to contemplate one’s own death,” Taylor writes near the start of her book, and there is courage in abundance here. She looked death in the eye and, in her final months, produced a work that will help the rest of us approach our own demise with greater understanding, integrity and insight.