Sunday, August 30, 2020

Turn Left Before Morning

Whether on purpose or by accident, I keep reading the right book on the right day, adding to the pile up of random coincidii... Yesterday, I mentioned resting after gardening, with poetry, and today, in Zoom Church, the theme was rest, which I did not do. Instead, I brought up more boxes from the basement, recycled and rearranged, and took (much less) back downstairs in a (much more) waterproof way with (a little bit) more organization. Then I read Turn Left Before Morning, by April Salzano (Rattle, 2016), and wrote in my (new, as in, found in one of the boxes) little notebook, "OMG, this woman can never rest!"

She's the mother of two sons, and her poems show her valiant efforts to be a good mom to both, in a life overtaken by the challenges of her son who has autism. She must be exhausted. She drops us into her life right away, with "Maybe God," the first poem, which begins, "Maybe God is in the broom closet / at my autistic son's elementary school..." We see him in various grades, in diapers, naked running down the hall, with various frustrations and quiet joys. And her joy is there, too, in rare and brief glowing moments. There is so much straight talk in this, grief and annoyance, ambivalence, and love, love, love. 

"I used to love dogs," she says in the poem "Clarabel." "Before kids and autism and bankruptcy and marriage and remarriage," and these troubles go on, until, "I lost something, some fraction of the capacity to love." To love dogs, that is, "to love just one more thing that needed loving." I get it, and it's OK. She's got her hands full, and there are plenty of dog lovers out there, and love to go around.

This poem hit the spot for its title, "Late Summer Sun," and opening reference, I think, to Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning." Salzano begins:

     I watch the trees outside the special school,
     not waving but standing
     still as any August. I am waiting
     for the wide doors to slide open,
     wheelchairs to be ushered forth
     like carnival rides. I hold tight
     to this latest pearl in a string 
     of promises, little hopes so easy to lose.

Here, in this back-to-school time for many, Salzano has already tried many schools. And I see in her blog, that "the new normal" of Covid is a way of life--the isolation, missing the (old) normal, expected things--that she is already used to.

I was struck by the turn that happens in "And on the Other Hand," the turn toward joy, and how this also matches what Lucia Perillo says about how a poem takes a turn. To quote Perillo again for a moment:

                                                    ...a poem, the tradition of which
     pretty much demands that the reader be told off the bat
     what a muckheap the world is. But then comes the swerve
     where the poet flipflops or digresses
     to come up with something that the muckheap
     will surprise you with.

And, as Salzano turns it, 

     Random fits of so much
     joy your heart tears
     and becomes two.

And then she turns it again, in the nightmarish, "Last Night I Ran Over My Autistic Son," so real I didn't know it was a nightmare. (Also because I know of a poet to whom this happened.) But this is where she "turned left before / morning," thank God. 

And the struggles and heartbreaks and goofy moments and giggling and love were able to go on.

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