Numinous Stones by Holly Lyn Walrath

1/1/20231 min read

Numinous Stones is a slim poetry volume about death and grief. Walrath states the desire to “place her life into a metaphor” through a “thin veil of ghosts, monsters, and planets.” She’s an established writer of short fiction and poetry, with her works appearing in major magazines such as Analog and Strange Horizons. She writes in a modern pantoum format, where lines are repeated in patterns. The word “numinous” is defined as “having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity.”

Walrath’s poetry radiates with a depth of melancholy that constantly pushes toward something transcendent. As she grieves her father, she has a vision where “in the dream world he could speak and he was crying out.” This dreamlike collection is encapsulated in that image—like Walrath herself is calling out into a strange and unknown land and trying to speak it into existence.

What initially feels like metaphorical distancing of the self from grief quickly propels into a contemplation of the divine. “I have a sordid affair with death.” The paradox of death is built and hammered into the lines, as if our contemplation of death somehow suggests a kind of immortality. The pantoum format works well, making each work feel at once surreal, emphatic, and timeless. Walrath manages to address the topic of death directly and yet without sinking into any cliche or oversentimentality. She seems to take an unflinching look at death and come away saying, “isn’t it strange and terrifying, and aren’t we beautiful?”