“Glass Cabin” by Tina Mozelle Braziel and James Braziel

Glass Cabin (Pulley Press April 2024) is a singularly beautiful book, radiant with life-affirming prose and poetry from husband-and-wife team Tina Mozelle Braziel and James Braziel.  In alternating voices, Jim and Tina tell a vivid, engaging story of how they built a house. Not just any house, mind you, but a cabin constructed in the wilds of Alabama on a place called Hydrangea Ridge. Neither were experienced construction workers or builders, but rather they are educators, poets, and writers. Yet they built the cabin with their own hands—although as they acknowledge gratefully, with the help of friends. In so doing, they utilized used church glass, reclaimed painted tin, storm damaged power poles, and other recycled and salvaged materials. In building and living in their glass cabin, the two do their best to step lightly through the natural world. The poetry is accessible, full of sensory impact, and luminous, and the prose crisp with a blend of insight and storytelling magic.

It took Jim and Tina Braziel thirteen years to build their glass cabin. Much of that time, they were living in the unfinished structure in what they called “luxury camping” as they built the cabin. In “Always and Absolutely,” Jim wrote: “Know that we didn’t set out to design a house of glass, / and we know the story of stones. We built what is ours from what / others handed down for free.” In “February Prayer,” he notes “The days are a list of what to do, of the cabin / shifting into home.” He also admits their “hands are the labor [they] can afford. Who knew / building a cabin would become a way of life?”

Glass Cabin unfolds with its lovely, lyrical phrases to tell several multi-layered stories. Both Jim and Tina are empathetic writers who capture raw truths with telling details and evocative descriptions. Perhaps the most obvious of the story lines is that of the love between Tina and Jim. In both their voices, and with an intimacy that’s touching, tender, and personal but never cloying, they invite us into their first attraction to their growing love, from the first dance to their leap of faith into marriage, and through the difficulties of building the home.

In an introduction, Jim confesses this: “I fell in love with her at the 280 Boogie where we danced to band after band all afternoon. …Tina knows how to turn a dress, and I’m crazy about her.” In turn, Tina tells Jim in her poem “Hive Step,” how in “Even our first dance / I took your measure / as true…” Soon after that she goes off to Oregon to study poetry and he begins to build the cabin forty-five minutes north of Birmingham. In “Texts,” she says, “I love how far you reach, / laying word next to word, building a bridge / from Hydrangea Ridge to the Willamette River, / a bridge that your love crosses, 2400 miles.”

Tina returns from Oregon, as Jim explains in the preface, arriving at his apartment “with our marriage license and her degree in hand, the cabin far from done.” In her poem titled, “I Married Him Before He Got the Roof On,” Tina celebrates their marriage and their move into the cabin before it was finished:

Married him before June,

before he said we’re moving

come September even if

we live in a tent. … Before I learned measuring

twice and cutting once

never guarantees getting it right. …Yes, I married him

before I got how all in

all is.

The building of the cabin and the building of their relationship are intimately entwined. In “Sun-Drenched” Tina writes of their love as a “place we spread quilt, carry / cooler, see sky as ceiling, / a nowhere place we make ourself / a home.” Jim, in turn, notes in “The Subfloor Blues” that “This is love. This is home.” In “Refuge,” he speaks of “the full / moon’s penny above the skylight I built. / So you could see out, I set a piece of glass across this wooden box.” The same poem reflects how he turns “trying not to miss what you find beautiful.”

There’s an adventure story element in the building as what they were doing in an isolated area was not always safe. Weather is as often threatening as not, and Jim early on notes the “apocalyptic nature of Alabama” with regards to tornadoes. Fire seasons and lack of rain threaten, turning Alabama dirt to “cement in a drought.” Rebel flags and nooses hung in trees on MLK day. Yellowjackets, wasps, other devilish bugs and “chigger bites we never feel until / the red knots swell into itches at 3 a.m.” Humidity “so heavy it will dunk if not drown me.” Copperheads and rattlers, and venomous creatures such that “Every living thing here trains me to / give space, but training has limits.”

Nature and weather aren’t the only challenges or dangers. In “Push,” physical limits are acknowledged: “There’s a place we move past exhaustion, where our shoulders / become thick with work, …when ‘keep going’ is all that’s left.” Jim recounts falling through a roof in “It Will Happen” and being rescued by his son, Dylan:

I fell through easy as air. I was falling, didn’t have time to know I was.

Caught hold a rafter.


“Don’t die,” Dylan said and grabbed my shirt and shoulder and did not let go until he fished me out.

Among the hardships revealed in the collection, perhaps none is more profound than the water issues. Jim explains “Digging a well for a single homestead meant churning 300, 400, as much as 700 feet through chert, which took a lot of patience, pipe, and money.” Given that, “We talk about gutters and a cistern—that’s the dream.” But until then, instead, they buy and bring water to the cabin: “So I know the time it takes to haul and carry water. And I know the weight of it, how much is needed to wash hands and clothes and clean a body of the dirt and sawdust and sweat of each day.” Given the work involved in every drop of water they must haul before using, when Jim turns a “faucet on in a store restroom or someone’s house, water shoots out so fast, [he] jump[s.]” He tries to wash his “hands quick to stop it from disappearing.”

Also, Glass Cabin is a love story about their abiding affair with the natural world, and these aspects are told with striking and sensual phrasing that invites the readers into that lush, alive world. There is also much tenderness in these poems and prose. But the Braziels avoid the trap of sentimentalizing nature and reveal it in its tooth and claw too. For instance, in “Easement” Jim finds “a baby rabbit curled up in a snake” and when the snake abandons its catch and the baby rabbit dies, Jim buries it.

Burying the dead rabbit is only one of the moments in this collection where Tina and Jim exhibit great compassion, or as Jim writes, “Care is what we have to offer here and what we count on.” Tina saves tadpoles in drying puddles, they place lizards in trees to save them from the dog and cat, and she rescues trapped butterflies as she describes in “Hinge:”

Mornings we woke to butterflies banging

their slender bodies against panes

we had framed. They could not fathom light

could lie, mean anything but open path.

I offered my hand, carried each out,

feeling thin feet softly tap my palm,

watching wings hinge open and close,

until they lifted iridescence to sun.

While currents of love might dominate, there is also a theme of usefulness—or of being useful. In “Bending Tin,” a friend gifts them old tin from a camp house, “tin, he and his father had painted so it / wouldn’t rust out and could still be of use.” Jim’s father salvages glass panes from his church and they carefully clean the panes until there is “nothing to see but through” though they save “Pop’s palmprint / from the Sunday he raised his hand to claim church panes for us.” Power poles snapped by storms find a new usefulness as wood for the cabin and dead trees left to cure will become rafters. Even the poets seek to be useful—Tina in “Woodhenge,” digging fence posts “wanting to prove / [her] worth” and Jim in “After Work in the Last Week of July” pledging to “get more done. Maybe sweat / enough to make heat into cold, bring light into [him].”

All in all, this is a profoundly appealing book, and it’s fascinating in a way poetry collections sometimes are not with its clear plot line of building a home by hand in an environment that did not make this easy. They offer a glossary of terms, plus graphics and photographs including the cover collage curtesy of Jim’s son Dylan. It’s a book to be devoured, and then re-read to be savored. Jim and Tina are both exceptional chroniclers and writers of great talent. Don’t miss this one.

Tina Mozelle Braziel

James and Tina Mozelle Braziel are a husband-and-wife writing team. They have received fellowships from Hot Springs National Park and Alabama State Council on the Arts.

James Braziel

James’s book, This Ditch-Walking Love (Livingston Press), winner of the Tartt Fiction Award, tells the stories of people living on Alabama’s Cumberland Plateau. His novels Birmingham, 35 Miles (Bantam) and Snakeskin Road (Bantam) are about the survivors of an environmental disaster in the future South. James is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University.

Tina Mozelle Braziel is the author of Known by Salt (Anhinga), winner of the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, and Rooted by Thirst (Porkbelly). Her work has appeared in POETRY and other journals. Tina directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon.



Ephemeral Pool

By Tina Mozelle Braziel

(Reprinted with Tina Mozelle Braziel’s permission)


means it won’t always be

here. Means puddle said

in a highfalutin way. Means

the sun and soil will Shop-Vac

this water like these dirt daubers

and bees, like the coyote

and turkey who tracked

through the middle

to drink it up.


Biodiverse is another way

of saying rain pooled

on a dirt road atop a ridge

in Alabama. It’s a nod

of respect to tadpoles

shimmying and turning

their opal bellies up

to catch the light

and the mosquito larvae

flicking tail against head

to dive and surface.


It means that in a single drop

there’s a galaxy

of single-celled creatures

thriving inside

delicate silica walls

just as they did

when dinosaurs splashed

through puddles.

Their bodies are glass houses

is what some say.

Maybe we should all say,

when we look to diatoms

and ask how to love our neighbors

enough to keep

from throwing any stones.



  1. Nice review of a worthy book!

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