Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 80 pages
· Publisher: WordTech Communications, 2010
· Price: $18.00
· ISBN-10: 1934999954
· ISBN-13: 978-1934999950
I am one of those people who starts to hiss when I get too much positive attitude pushed at me. You know the kind: it’s storming outside, and they are dancing in the rain. You just lost your job, and they tell you a better one is waiting. Your spouse left you for another, and they tell you he didn’t deserve you anyway. Your foot got amputated, and they cheer that you won’t have to worry about all those socks that get eaten by the dryer.
Take your last sock and use it to slap those ever chipper and shiny faces silly.
The human being is blessed with a wide range of emotion in all shades of dark and light, and most recent studies have actually started to show—hurrah—that denying any of them does us no good. Indeed, overly positive people can start to suffer from repressed emotion and bouts of guilt when they aren’t feeling chipper and shiny. After all, happiness is a choice, right?
To feel emotions, all your emotions, is a healthier and richer choice. Grief may be our least favorite, but deny it, and it will, those studies say, keep you secretly depressed a heck of a lot longer than if you give full wail to the moon when your heart is aching.
So, we have here a collection of poems called Grief Suite by Bobbi Lurie. Brave and poetic soul. Lurie dives into grief in these poems, every last one, and she dives deep. She holds her breath and stays under as long as she can. I confess, by the end of this collection, I was ready to exhale. These poems hurt. They weep, they wail, they simmer in sadness, and they are heavy with a gray grief. But how grand that we have a poet who has the courage to speak in such a dark and poetic language about the exquisite suffering of the abused, the lonely, the left behind, the aging and the dying.
When they finally dragged me in, pinned with stars
and a promiscuous love
for the mentholated bushes,
I was willing to admit anything:
that my life was persistently frightening,
that my stone heart feasted on solitary meals
fed through a slot in the door,
That I am my own suffering.
(from “Soft Fibers Adorn the Diminishing Landscape”)
Lurie’s poems of grief touch on several different variations of the theme. The opening poem, “Traveling North,” appears to address the suffering of a woman in an abusive relationship. Her suffering continues even when the relationship is done, the man is dead, yet still she goes through her life wounded, flinching, expecting the blow. Just as she never knew then when to expect the next strike, or would it this time be a caress, so now she wanders a strip mall, unable to open herself to joy, changed forever, this sheep-like suffering a part of her always.
In “Codependent Nation,” Lurie uses a lowercase “i” to write in first person, so small is the woman in her self esteem who is “held back in my freedom” and then “i was freed to be/a spoke in the wheel but where/was the wheel twirling me.” The couple sees a therapist as their marriage disintegrates, but the therapist appears to be just another abusive husband, in some sense becoming codependent with hers, bringing the couple all the wrong solutions while the therapist’s “miserable wife” is a ghost in the background.
In “Your ‘I’ So Much Like Mine,” Lurie asks “how much forgiveness is sufficient? When you reveal what you/need from the person who hurt you … “ and expressed a fear of being erased.
Many of Lurie’s poems, in fact, refer to these common metaphors, fears, of being erased, of feeling invisible, of suffering amputation. These are threads that bind the poems.
The title poem, “Grief Suite,” is a lengthy prose poem that deals with a daughter’s suffering while watching her mother die, finally at her mother’s funeral. It is written in third person, as if to bring in the sense of distance. The daughter is haunted even as an adult woman by the neglect suffered from her mother: “Everything, even the weather, conspires to speak for the mother.” She is reminded everywhere and by everything of the void left inside her, when she lacked her mother’s attention, reassurance, nurturing.
With poignant lines, Lurie captures that stifling moment when health care providers assure us all is well, even as we lay dying. We watch the scene of detached reality, everyone denying what is really happening, the unspoken grief thick between the lines. “The male nurse says your mother will not die./ She is fine. The mother’s white skin, white hair like silk, her/luminous body sick and shaking, arms tied down in restraints,/ her heart beats green on the black screen above her head,/blood pressure in red, oxygen in blue. They say she is doing/well.”
Finally, at the mother’s funeral, the son speaks a eulogy, those words of praise few seem to mean: “The son’s words, sanded to a fine finish, float above the mother.”
“Once My Heart Was Wide and Loved the World” describes that positive attitude that shrinks the struggling insides of a cancer patient, now wondering in guilt if grief and pain did not bring about the cancer. This is a poem that surely most such patients will find honest to the degree of shimmering truth: “I lay my life out like a beautiful fabric.”
And so are Lurie’s poems of grief, of suffering, of depression laid out like a beautiful fabric. There is a place for such beauty. Grief must be acknowledged in order to pass through it toward the light again. If this is at times a difficult collection of poetry to read, take it in smaller doses, but take it. It’s through this kind of fire that strength is born, and in chewing this kind of grit that pearls are created.
Bobbi Lurie is the author of three books of poetry.