Kristen Tracy’s collection Half-Hazard, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson First Book Award, was twenty years in the making. And so, it should come as no surprise that time plays a pivotal role in this outstanding collection. Time is the medium across which cruelty unfolds towards the plants, animals, and people that we share the world with—and it is the medium through which we bear witness. Often, as described in “Gardening on Alcatraz in July,” the speaker and the human world around her are “cutthroat plants overtaking other plants.” Time spells the ends of things: the ends of love, life, faith and tradition; and the perpetuation of others: of violence, prejudice, mistreatment of animals. She asks “How much can a reservoir / hold in the dark?”

These poems shine brightest when Tracy positions herself at the center of these questions, using her own personal choices and growth to face these fears. In “Urban Animals” she writes, “think I can take my conscience out for waffles / and sit in a comfortable booth / and not feel the universe pinch me / with its guilt.” This is a collection that explores conscious choice and empathetic action, the ways that the decisions we make can help battle the timelines of our own cruelty. Because, beneath those “cutthroat plants,” volunteer gardeners uncovered the “Bardou Job rose, thought to be extinct.” This collection eloquently demonstrates that “The things / we kiss good-bye make room for all we kiss hello” and that “we should all bear witness to what we didn’t expect to see.”

Graywolf Press.

—Review by David Brunson