Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep

I sleep when I can, including on the couch, sitting up, mid-reading, with the light on, in the middle of the night. Not that these gripping, wise, clear-eyed, unflinching, masterful poems would put me to sleep. No, but they greeted my wakened self when most needed to re-direct my jam-packed mind in the wee hours. The cover is Portrait of a Woman (c. 1480) by Hans Memling. The title, The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep, found again as the title of the last poem in the book, refers to a photograph by Jeffrey Silverthorne. The amazing poet is Linda Gregerson. I'm glad I didn't die in my sleep, last night, but, otherwise, it might be the best way to go...

These poems look at the world, the body, the individual, the wars of the time (1990s), the personal difficulties, the global woes, the fleeting joys. "For the Taking" is a devastatingly honest poem (that reminds me of Yvonne Zipter's poem, "Daddy," from yesterday's reading) about a sister whose "bad uncle" abused her, from eight-and-a-half years old on, "for years, in the back of the car,

in the basement where he kept his guns,
          and we
     who could have saved her,...

                     ...we would be somewhere mowing the lawn

or basting the spareribs, right
          outside, and--how
     many times have you heard this?--we

were deaf and blind
                         and have
     ever since required of her that she

take care of us, and she has,
                          and here's
     the worst, she does it for love.

"Salt" shows us a botched suicide in a barn and a broken collarbone in a hammock. But "With Emma at the Ladies-Only Swimming Pond on Hampstead Heath" gives us the surprise of a pond in the woods, and, as the title promises, ladies swimming, safely, alone. "Target" returns us to fears for the safety of our children, via Medea, car crashes, the Serbian war. "Fish Dying on the Third Floor at Barneys," at first about a dramatic department store fashion display, compares the dying fish to a dying father. "Bleedthrough" compares menstruation to art, as when, in a painting, "we say // that the surfeited pigment 'bleeds.'" And "Luke 17:32" reminds us of Lot's wife and "the rigors of the backward look." How do we start over?! Get out of the basement with the guns?! Change course?! "Who // cannot read shall not / be saved."

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