Laurie Duesing's Hard Kisses is a focused, concise consideration about how we face loss. Some readers may know Duesing from her publication in Three West Coast Women, which helped draw attention to her excellent poems (as well as those by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux). Hard Kisses presents three poems about losing a lover in a racing accident, "Tremor," "Precision," and "Legacy," from that anthology, along with poems about facing cancer ("Transformation," "Waiting for Radiation," "Art Appreciation in the Comprehensive Cancer Center"), breakups ("After You Told Me You'd Married Another Woman," "Falling Asleep Reading 'Can This Marriage Be Saved?'") and familial conflict ("Color and Longing," "Grieving at J.C. Penney's"), among other topics. This may sound a bit overwhelming, but Duesing keeps the collection balanced by continually returning to her celebration of the human body, as she does in "Mural:"
The Ontario Royal Museum has my body all over it,
the one I had twenty years ago,
which is no longer mine, but the permanent body
of the pioneer Canadian woman—adventurous,
stoic, built to last. Another woman’s head is on my body
because I was not beautiful enough, though the artist
never said that to me. Between modeling sessions,
the other woman and I would pass in the hall,
never speaking, each half of the artist’s perfect whole.
She had the face a culture would launch ships for and I had
the body that could outride a country’s founding years.
In someone’s imagination, I have explored and settled
frontier Canada. After nearly a quarter century,
things may be sufficiently civilized.
The artist, of course, was sleeping with both of us.
I used to wonder if he saw her when he was making love to me,
if the face of the young, strong woman lying beneath him,
in all the sinewy leanness I was then, had the dreamy, ethereal
beauty of a Helen, a Beatrice. And when he made love
to her, was it my body he felt? Is there a man out there
I’ve slept with twice as much as I remember,
a man riding the perfect woman to eternity?
Though the speaker laments her treatment in this poem, she also praises the strength of her own form and the love it has received. "Mural" arrives at a joy for the body that carries through the entire collection. In fact, that sentiment could best be summed up by "The Anatomist Gives His Sabbatical Leave Report," in which the poet writes: "It's moving flesh I love: muscles, / skin, hair in all their kinetic possibilities." Because of this warmth, by the time you arrive at the concluding poems, "The Kisses" and "Falling," it's hard to not feel a kinship with Duesing. While Hard Kisses is out print, it is worth tracking down a copy.