“Valediction: Poems and Prose” by Linda Parsons

Valediction: Poems and Prose (Madville Publishing 2023) by Linda Parsons is an achingly lovely collection in which the poet treks through ordinary facets of life weighing marvel against damage. Parsons’ poems and her micro-essays, which she calls visitations, are eminently relatable—the death of a beloved dog, a complicated father-daughter relationship, loving support from older women in her family circle, aging, the pandemic, gardening, travel—and more. Yet, for all these are familiar topics, the work here is consistently fresh. The poems and essays can be admired both for what they say and for what they carefully avoid saying. Never sentimental or trite, these are personal and yet universal, earthly yet spiritual, sometime poignant, yet rather exuberant on balance. Unflinchingly painful at times, yet with an abiding sense of resilience and rebirth, these pieces have a yin and yang quality that makes reading and rereading them a thoughtful adventure.

Titles in the table of contents tell readers this will be an absorbing body of work, rich with the sights, feels, sounds, and fullness of the life around us. “Light Around Tree in Morning,” “Speaking So Loud without Words,” “A Woman Dreams a Cow in Her Dining Room” are but a few examples of this. As the titles suggest, the variety and reach of the works speak of a soul with deepening understanding and heightened awareness. The insight with which Parsons infuses her words is distinctive to her own voice and often lifted with gratitude. In some ways, the poems and short prose seem to be the poet’s attempts to work through some of the trauma life throws at her and to do so with a love-affirming touch.

Parsons’ themes of rebirth and resilience resound vibrantly in her many poems and macro essays involving gardening. The first poem in the collection, “Light Around Trees in Morning,” introduces this recurring vision of gardening and of the magic of working in and around trees, plants, and nature. She writes of “[s]o much light, I think it’s caught fire / the paperbark maple self-immolating—.” In the third stanza, she observes, “A woman alone makes good headway” and “[s]ometimes I think / light comes only when we’re bowed.” In one of her visitation entries of short prose, she writes: “My rage for order conversant with the garden’s / natural wantonness.” In “Garden Medicine,” she tells of how her “friend has asked a prayer / a blessing to call back her sight from its heavy / curtain.” In “Overtaken,” when a “silver hair strays / down as I bend over the iris bed,” the poet needs “no other sign that my DNA / commingles columbine and verbena,” as she spends “this bittersweet / time in the garden.”

In the title poem, “Valediction,” the death of a beloved sheepdog captures the sadness of the loss, yet the poem infuses the passing with a sense of rebirth. When “the needle was done / and my sheepdog limped into last night” the mourning ocarina with its “plaintive / call, soft strut of leafmeal” is the first thing the poet sees. “That dove, I thought, will house his sable / spirit, coat feathered like joy in the wind.” With sweet tenderness, this dog (or perhaps another) appears in “April Wish,” as the poem remembers someone once dear but now “[y]ears since we last talked.”  “The memory I keep / by the garden gate in Tennessee, your conversation / with Laddie the sheepdog, intent and private, who / would’ve gladly heeled you home to the Great Plains.”

While it is risky to assume poems are autobiographical, the honesty and genuineness of the poems about a father, a mother, and a stepmother certainly suggest these are carved from Parsons’ own experience, emotionally if not strictly factually. While the dying of the father dominates his share of the poems, he appears bold and full of life in some lines such as these from “Many Mansions:”

In one room, my father trims the Douglas fir

in silver, a whisper from the cathedral ceiling,

only the tallest and biggest will do.


Yet in “Putting Him On,” she writes “I could not smooth his brute / fear at the end, /…no knowledge of how / terribly heaven bears down.”

In the poem “My Angels Speak in Dreams, on the Radio, at the Railroad Crossing,” Parsons pays tribute to a grandmother and a stepmother: “I watch / and listen, tuned to any sign, any message, / at the corner, the crossing, awake to what / passes in the blue percussive air.” The stepmother also appears in “Many Mansions,” with appreciation and gratitude: “My stepmother, / surrounded by all of her rescues, two-legged / and furred, and I am there—at seven, at eleven, / and now nearing seventy I need more than ever / to be lifted by the scruff of the neck.”

The pandemic makes its appearance in this collection in more than one piece, giving a topical quality yet done in a timeless way. In the poem “Airing It Out,” Parsons writes of “being as open as linen on the line,” and wonders: “After / the long virus winter, how can I be / anything but sun-warm skin and bone / down to my brightening folds, / down to the naked earth.” In one of her visitation pieces, she writes of gardening and the pandemic:

                                                                           …Especially in this time of

pandemic isolation, the necessity of one spade breaking ground centers

  1. I excavate not only my life, but also other lives before me—marbles,

buttons, iron figures, bits of china—unearthed in land as crooked as

my own lifeline.


All in all, these are rich, lyrical, and splendid poems, ones to be read, reread, and enjoyed on many levels, including emotionally, spiritually, and appreciatively.  The themes of gardens and gardening which weave through the collection keep the poems earth-bound on the one hand, but lift them up also, creating works that are at once sensual and intellectual.

As an eighth-generation Tennessean, Parsons says, “All of the struggles/ties/absences of home are prominent in my work of forty years’ being active in the southern Appalachian writing community.”

Linda Parsons and Frankie

Parsons, who is a playwright, essayist, and editor as well as a poet, is the the poetry editor for Madville Publishing and the copy editor for Chapter 16, the literary website of Humanities Tennessee. She is published in such well-respected journals as The Georgia ReviewIowa ReviewPrairie SchoonerSouthern Poetry Review, Terrain, The Chattahoochee Review, Baltimore Review, Shenandoah, and American Life in Poetry.



(reprinted here in its entirely with the poet’s permission)

 I hear before seeing, no need to see

to know morning’s ocarina, plaintive

call, soft strut on leafmeal. It was the first

creature I saw when the needle was done

and my sheepdog limped into last night.

That dove, I thought, will house his sable

spirit, coat feathered like joy in the wind.

Dove comes when my scattered mind


needs herding—bitter anniversaries,

leavings dire as tornadic rumble. Comes

when sky rivers blue, cooing all’s well

after all. Comes not to forbid mourning,

but trills core deep, beyond the senses,

glances back to make sure I follow

its white-tipped tail. Plaintive ocarina,

call me to bear all the light coming.



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