Lost Alphabet by Lisa Olstein

Lost Alphabet is a collection of prose poems that are written in the form of field notes written by a lepidopterist (moth scientist) living on the outskirts of a village in an unknown place.  It is so rich in an exotic, mysterious setting with a narrator who changes over the course of the book, changing the analysis and changing himself.  His observations include moths, of course, but also intriguing glimpses of the village, migraines that hit for days and lead to breakthroughs, and the harsh landscape that surrounds him.  Olstein's poems contain strong lines that are so earned they hit deep.  I've included some segments below, but it's hard to take these poems out of context of each other, or the lines out of context of the larger collection.  Buy here.


[the second of five predictables]

It is injurious to move them, no matter how gently, from whatever perch or bed they are quiet upon. Anything hates to be pulled from its feet. They resist and soon it's a struggle and I'm some monster of weather or prey, so I have learned to move them carefully on whatever it is they cling to.  There is a ripple, an almost undetectable flash of alarm, but it passes, and the branch or leaf beneath them is a balm, a promise between us.


[a moment or as long as necessary]

Like captains on a ship or cousins in a poorhouse we sleep in shifts, one of us always watching.  Ilya won't handle the specimens, but reports their activity in a log. Usually days are quiet. I have imagined a new way of holding my instruments, more of a laying down in the fingers. I introduce the changes slowly so as not to startle the moths. It will benefit them, but they are accustomed to what they are accustomed to and I don't want them to think I am strange.