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Speaking in Riddles by Sharon Chmielarz

(Nodin Press)

Riddle me this—what far-flung genre of verse will the multi-talented, South Dakota-raised poet Sharon Chmielarz leap into next? The answer would be difficult to predict. She’s done lyrical collections (The Sky Is Great, The Sky Is Blue), bio­graphical poetry (The Other Mozart), collections of personal memoir (The Window’s House), cryptic biblical prophecy (The J Horoscope)—and now, a book of riddles. Speaking in Riddles is a quaint little volume of 100 originals—and yes, the answers are in the back. Which is handy. when you haven’t the slightest idea what the riddle describes—which is me, about sixty per­cent of the time. I don’t think Chmielarz will mind if I give you a freebie right now:


Earthliness lies at the frame

of the east window. A breeze

becomes a mate to the room.

Thunder puts its bike away in a cloud,

and the crickets jam a rondelet.


My guess here was “sunset” because of crickets, and I wasn’t that far off from the official answer: a summer evening. This is a bit more subjective and impressionistic than a “classic” riddle—the kind that seems impossible to solve when you hear it, and then when you hear the answer you slap your head and say “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” But Chmielarz has a few of those to offer as well:


You choose an orange tool for me.

And then a red. Or a black. Whichever

sticks are beautiful to your eye transform

all things they rub against. When you’re

done, please return them.


The answer to that is of course (of course!) a box of cray­ons, but the riddle could also be read as a metaphor for Speak­ing in Riddles itself. The whole book is like a set of crayons: beautiful, colorful, interactive and fun.

- Joel Van Valin