Bloomsbury Review, January/February 2009
Mayapple Press, $15.95 paper
I live in the
mountains of central
No one who does not live in the tropics has ever experienced the exotic essence of a ripe mango, a mango maduro. I breakfasted this very morning on a bowl of that deep orange and indescribably delectable fare. Indeed, those mangoes picked green and shipped north no more resemble a ripe mango than a poem “picked green” and published too early resembles a “ripe” poem.
Piirto’s poems are like those ripe mangos. They have been allowed to mature on
the tree. Jane’s tree, though, is her own life in the Midwest, particularly the
Upper Peninsula of
In “Taking Sauna: Saturdays, 1950s,” Piirto participates in the tradition of her Finnish forefathers and foremothers:
Four girls and Aunt on benches
wait to sweat up, ladling cool
water on the hot round rocks. [20}
James Tipton—Piirto 2
The Finnish families “take sauna”  as other families might take communion together. After the “four slippery bare-naked girls with/their naked plump aunt…” have finished, the uncles, with their quart bottles of beer “go down for another….”
Through the half-open doorway
sit seven bald, naked men,
lined up on the orange bench
against the smooth whitewashed wall,
their heads bent forward,
arms resting on their spread legs. 
But now it is no longer 1950 and “except for Uncle Ernie”  the uncles are all dead.
The house, sold, is in shambles.
we former children,
older now than they were then,
now grandparents, never take
saunas on Saturday night. 
Piirto’s delight and pride in her Finnish heritage pervades the poems, particularly in Section I, “Saunas,” where each poem is introduced by a Runo, out of the Kalevala, “sometimes called the epic poem of Finland….” One of the poems, “Grandma you used to,” is even followed by a translation into Finnish.
Section II, “Women like Horses,” recounts temptations, fascinations, longings, political triumphs, obsessions. Who hasn’t experienced unrequited love? For Piirto, “I Will Never Love Anyone the Way I Loved James Dean”:
It was the purest love I’ve known for love’s sake,
in just 15-year need, the very greed of love
that’s unrequited. I murmured prayers to him before my prayer—
dear James Dean James Dean don’t be dead you can’t be dead don’t be don’t James do James oh James oh.
I took up with Jesus soon after. 
Piirto’s own children and grandchildren are the focus of Section III. To a Sleeping Child. Again, Piirto’s delightful sense of what can be discovered when one actually wants to see, comes forth in poems like “Forts,” which begins:
James Tipton—Piirto 3
There’s one beneath the basement steps,
carpeted with a crib mattress,
closed off with a worn out bedspread.
There’s one in the attic,
secret in the junk and jumble,
small hollow under caving boxes.
There’s one in the garage,
where this week’s neighborhood club
“No Grils Alowed.”
She finds sound advice in the words of a 3-year-old who explains that
tomorrow is when she wakes up
in the morning and when we tell her
we’ll go shopping tomorrow she
remembers yesterday and informs us
that it is tomorrow that today is
yesterday that therefore the time is
always now to do what we plan to do
In the final Section IV. Mushrooms, Piirto’s deep love for the world in which she has suffered but also in which she has found herself surfaces in every poem. This world includes “All Those Little Brown Birds” so difficult to tell apart: “Dappled, the differences/like trying to tell twins apart/(one has a mole on his chin, one doesn’t).”, as well as the scarlet tanager that thought “the window reflecting trees and air/was trees and air.”
In the final poem, “A Blessing,” Piirto drives north, returning to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to her Finnish roots:
I come each season
to my old bed
in my old room
near the ancient red bluff. [92}
James Tipton—Piirto 4
In the morning
small languid snow falls.
Slow winter dawn lifts
on old apple trees
on a white hill.
The old house sighs
You are home.
This, at least,
has not changed. 
Jane Piirto’s Saunas is another high quality production by Mayapple Press, a press that has been around now for thirty years. It was a lovely surprise to discover Saunas because in recent years I have so often read poetry by poets who are much better known than Piirto but whose poems were “picked too soon.”
Poetry needs to live for a while in a mature intelligence before it is ready to be picked…and published. Jane Piirto’s poems have that mature intelligence. Stand under her tree some night. Hold out your hands. Catch one the moment it drops.
James Tipton’s collection of poetry, Letters from a Stranger (with a Foreword by Isabel Allende), is a Colorado Book Award winner.