In a Better Place

Poems of Metamorphosis

By Margaret Van Every

A fan of Margaret Van Every’s poetry for many years (I read her book Saying Her Name three times), I am delighted to review her new poetry collection In a Better Place: Poems of Metamorphosis (February ’24). Here the word “metamorphosis” refers to our final transition. This book is the finale to her two earlier books that in her own words describe “many changes from child to teenager to woman to mature woman to the beginning of cronehood.”

Her 31-syllable, 5-line tankas often present the essence of a longer poem written to the same topic on the opposing page. One of my favorites has caused me to reflect on my own life, as do many of this poet’s ponderings on this stage of life:

now near the end

I realize

doors I didn’t open

for lack of keys

were never locked

Poems poignant, thought provoking or heartbreaking are interspersed with comic relief as in this excerpt from “Death, Be a Lover Not a Friend.”

 . . . Be a lover,

take me quickly, do not linger.

What’s the point when I’m so

willing? Let’s elope, we’ll vanish

in the night before they know . . .

Having been caretaker for my husband, I identified fully with these lines, which in an earlier stanza of the poem “Death Comes Home,” reflect upon the anticipated loss of the poet’s husband:

living with him now

a form of living alone

yet when he’s gone

I know I’ll mourn

the empty space he occupied

The concluding stanza of the poem presents conflicting emotions at the moment of separation:

his frail hand in mine

I watch the labored breath

until the final expiration

I sigh for two—

relief and liberation

In resolution, the poet puts our mortality in its proper place in creation, with poems dedicated to the whole chain of nature: a feral owl, a pack of canines, a grasshopper, a mosquito, a frog. A moth flattened high on the wall haunts her, and we zoom out from wild turkeys foraging in autumn leaves to a bobcat watching them from the shadows. But in the end, what she asks for is expressed beautifully in the book’s last poem, “Negative Space.”

When I am dead let me be

the negative space that occupies

your living rooms—that surrounds

your table and fills the air

separating bed from ceiling. I want

to be the emptiness that caresses

and defines the architecture of

your life. I will lean against the verticals,

lounge atop the horizontals, preserve the

angles, edges, distances between and

among. On your favorite forest path,

I’ll be the light and the vibration that

set apart the trees, granting each

form its due. Nothingness is something.

Let me stay a presence in my absence.

In a Better Place: Poems of Metamorphosis sold out at its Ajijic book launch but is available on, as are Margaret Van Every’s other books: Holding Hands with a Stranger, Saying Her Name, and A Pillow Stuffed with Diamonds. Saying Her Name and A Pillow Stuffed with Diamonds are available locally at Diane Pearl’s Gallery.

Margaret Van Every resided in Ajijic and was a member of the Ajijic Writers Group from 2007-2022. She was a charter member and is still active in the Not Yet Dead Poets Society. Currently she resides in Tallahassee, Florida.

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Judy Dykstra-Brown
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