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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Women’s Talk Janice Whittington’s Connecting Circles of Light BY PAT LITTLEDOG I INTO A THOUSAND MOUTHS. By Janice Whittington. Texas Tech University Press. 68 pages. $18.95. Idecided to try to find out Janice Whittington’s phone number and call her, after finishing my first read of Into a Thousand Mouths \(her first Tech University Press’ Walt McDonald Publication Award last spring. The jacket cover said she lives in Lubbock; I left my number on an answering machine. Janice called me that evening. By then I had read her book a second time. You know how it is with old mindblown, spirit-haunted neo-transcendentalists like myself. We’re always being amazed with “coincidence,” when invisible connections suddenly arc into light. So how was it that Janice’s book came into my hands in the week when I had finished my own book, several years in the writing, and that both books featured fathers who had been career officers in the Air Force? Her book’s short biography and the details of her poems supplied other coincidences. She had been born in Bossier City, Louisiana, where my little brother had been born. Our East Texas grandparents had farmed no more than forty miles apart. Our ancestors had trailed into the state on the southern route, through Georgia. Then there was that somewhat bemused take of the military brat, bred to be a homeless gypsy, on the details of the hearth and home state. This period of early development, I found after talking to her, had been prolonged in Janice’s case with marriage to another Air Force man for several years, which had kept her globetrotting from England to Wyoming to New England to Virginia to California, deep into her adulthood. “Was your father stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base?” she asked me when I told her of our Bossier City connection. “Yep. I was there the last half of my first grade and the first half of my second.” “I was just three months old when I left,” she said, “so I don’t really feel much connection with the place. In fact, the different schools I went to are all a blur to me now. I don’t seem to have those strong ties others presume are universal to specific teachers, or any kind of strong school spirit. Is it that way with you?” “Oh yes.” “But now I’ve settled in Lubbock. This is my home. I made a very conscious decision to call it that. And I’ve been here now for sixteen years remarried….” “And did you marry a hometown guy from Lubbock?” “Yes and so I did!” she said happily. “And my daughters are grown now and live far away from me, and from each other.” In this way we continued what some would call “gossip” or “women’s talk” for almost an hour, exchanging details of family and snippets of memory a fitting entryway to the world of her poems: Every time I call her, murmurs of other women haunt the wires, women who sit and wait for phone calls on Sunday afternoons when hours unravel and the sun loiters in the sky. They hear me dial and tap into the line between mother and me. I hear them whisper stories of grandsons who streak to victory in track meets, daughters who sew perfect collars, and dead husbands who took them square dancing, petticoats red and whirling. Their litanies weave together, each voice a thread singing…. “Talking to Mother” Even with almost two decades of hometownism, the mark of the early gypsy lies heavy upon Janice’s poetry. Her viewpoint is distanced down the road as she tends to see most comfortably through glass windows, the eyes of other artists, photographs, and imagination. Highways cut through her landscapes. She drives 300 miles on Highway 36 across Texas with her sister to attend to her father’s dying: “Trees lining the road catch our headlights and make a constant tunnel” while “the radio fades from one small town station to another” \(“Highway the main road through Lubbock which connects Clovis, New Mexico on one end to Sweetwater on the other, and imagines the trees to be like the gnarly women who came on early westbound wagons, their hands “callused from plowing caliche and clay, cactus ittYlite A w,h. m11-1,,,,ald Winner THE TEXAS OBSERVER 35 MARCH 31, 2000