Enticing though it may be to dream of cold landscapes when summer days get a bit too warm (already) it does not exactly seem wonderful to imagine taking a sauna during the pandemic and sweating out life even more, getting exhausted even more. That’s not the point of the sauna, as Cheryl J. Fish seems to report in her book of poems/memoir/travel journal. The sauna is the sacred space for contemplation and just plain bathing and, well, for everything under the sun in order to be close to the sun in the darkness.
Cheryl J. Fish’s The Sauna Is Full Of Maids is an adventure to Finland told with poems, photographs, and lines from the Kalevala, Finland’s origin story/epic/saga.
It is great to look through this book and daydream about journeys and berries and boggy lakes. These are prose poems and travelogues in poem form, told with the sparse flavor of the North. I am really attracted to the ancient lifeways in this book:
“His journey paralleled birds and reindeer. Spread his culture, migrating.”
from “Another Round Of Heat”
“In the Kalevala, birds lay eggs in a barren water-mother’s knee. The bottom half of a smashed egg becomes earth.”
from “Unreliable Snowpack”
It isn’t all ancient lore here. There are meetings with fellow artists and travelers, foragers, dreamers, and recent immigrants to Finland. It is amazing to realize (yet again) that we live on a tiny planet and its inhabitants have been following the flow of the elements forever and that during our lives we get glimpses of what is important, what helps us to be alive. Those things could include the sauna, the icy cold water, vasta birch sprigs, and the steam.
The Sauna Is Full Of Maids by Cheryl J. Fish. Shanti Arts Publishing, June 2021.
Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in Oregon’s Umpqua Basin, author of, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast, available from Finishing Line Press.