Spell­book for the Sab­bath Queen

  • Review
By – October 5, 2023

In Eli­she­va Fox’s first col­lec­tion of poet­ry, read­ers gain insight into one par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence of Judaism on the Gulf Coast. Fox’s com­pact poems braid togeth­er a sap­ph­ic nar­ra­tive of the speaker’s late-bloom­ing roman­tic life — a jour­ney from fear and repres­sion to joy­ful self-cer­tain­ty, all set against the threat of patri­ar­chal vio­lence. Lay­ered with kab­bal­ah and tarot, tex­tured by blue­bon­net ova­tions and chem­i­cal sun­sets, and com­plete with mon­sters human and oth­er­wise, Spell­book for the Sab­bath Queen finds in its lyric you” a sense of hope­ful­ness throughout.

The mon­sters in this book — the mys­tic ones, at least — are a curi­ous sort: they are the Behe­moth, selkies, shapeshifters, and witch­es on whom the poet calls for strength. There is also Leviathan, all oil-slick sinew and chem­i­cal eyes — /​/​whispered rumor is that he/​favors the gulf because the water isn’t clear.”

Inter­twin­ing Judaism and life in Texas, Fox cre­ates ten­sion between what we expect of each. For exam­ple, the speak­er explains that the man she pro­tect­ed her body and chil­dren from knows now that i am not some/​texas lime­stone golem born/​to crum­ble under salt and tears … ” Fox’s best images are as slip­pery as that golem, or as the speak­er her­self, who claims, how unlike the ocean/​i am — /​i have no/​depths that i hide from you.” 

In aor­ta.,” which uses the Texas Freeze of 2021 as an extend­ed metaphor for her roman­tic life, the speak­er imag­ines she’s been frozen like her house and its pipes, then rec­og­nizes that if she’s tru­ly seen and touched by a woman, the way the sun holds the first wildflowers/​/​I will expand/​and burst/​/​and drown.” 

The book unites emo­tion­al and reli­gious devo­tions quite earnest­ly. Some­times this means that the poet wears her heart on her sleeve — the word heart” appears often — and the dan­ger of the pro­sa­ic intrudes. Yet by lean­ing into sen­ti­ment, Fox con­veys an incred­i­ble direct­ness. One can see this move­ment in a poem like fil­ly.,” which begins with the flat dec­la­ra­tion that tex­an sum­mer is tech­ni­col­or — ” but becomes more musi­cal as the poem con­tin­ues: “ … gold­en horses/​flashing against blue clouds/​dark with sponged up sky.// is it bright like this,/where you are?” 

Fox’s use of direct address takes on a rhetor­i­cal force that serves her through­out the col­lec­tion. In inqui­si­tion.,” one of the best poems in the book, the nar­ra­tor begins:

you’re damn right,

i’m a witch.

we can start there

and skip the trial. 

It’s a right­eous and wild poem, with wor­shiped oak trees, strong thighs, paper amulets, and the deep­est witch­craft, all of which have been pre­dictably lack­ing in con­tem­po­rary poet­ry. Spell­book for the Sab­bath Queen is a promis­ing debut. 

Discussion Questions