An Important New Voice Emerges in First Book
Quickly glancing at titles of the 40 essays in this first published book by Joni Woelfel -The Killing Frost, Bone Woman, Alligators of Fear, Rafts and Battleships, Prayerful Howling, Strand Gatherer, Breath of the Night, Spangles of Light, The Christmas Hush- informs the reader that this new voice offers more than chicken soup for sufferers of pain and illness and their friends and family members. Woelfel tells us that her intimate acquaintance with chronic illness has shaken her 'by the scruff of the neck so powerfully that I've felt my teeth rattle.' But instead of taking refuge in cloying self pity that traps the reader in a web of self absorption and guilt, these essays startle us with unique glimpses of inner voices and dreams, childhood memories, animistic views of nature and the keen discoveries and fresh metaphors of a poet. Memories of childhood remind Woelfel that an important value of rediscovering lost youth presents the opportunity to tap into 'that life-giving secret rhythm- the kind that makes trees sway when there's no wind.' What can the reader learn from these meditations? 'Trial and illness does not make us gentle. Rather, it makes us authentic. Fragility does not have to mean weakness. Instead, it's an element of the deepest deep that should be noted with mindfulness, sensitivity and respect. Vulnerability is not something to be apologized for, ashamed of or taken as a sign of character weakness.' As the author tells us, 'Our suffering may not go away, but there is a downstream feel to it that connects us to a deeper trust that we can hang on to and that hangs on to us. We cling to that trust, knowing that- no matter what- we won't be destroyed.' A mythic spirit of the land understood completely only by someone who has had long lasting, intimate acquaintance with rural life renews inner strength. Woelfel relates, referring to a fallen Great Grandmother tree, 'This grandmother came to represent the backbone of the woods- skeletal, with only her essence remaining, teaching us that change and diminishment are nothing to fear but are, rather, part of a natural process overshadowed by the care of God.'