The Presence of Absence: A Response to Raymond Luczak’s once upon a twin by Sara Paye

Copyright © February 10, 2021
Poetry
$15.95, 96 pages
Gallaudet University Press
ISBN 978-1-944838-76-8

 

 

 

 

The Presence of Absence: A Response to Raymond Luczak’s once upon a twin
by Sara Paye

Readers of Raymond Luczak’s once upon a twin will be exposed to a variety and a lifetime of not only “what ifs” but also “whys”, astutely answered with imagination and a personal kind of science combined. The cover image shows an angelic figure lifting up one arm as if to worship, with beams of light behind. It must be a spiritual symbol for perseverance, for there is a mountain peak in the distance as well. Our narrator creates memoir with the guise of poetry in his own perspective between the years of 1965 and 1981. 

Throughout the work, Luczak makes known the absence of his possible twin, in such a way that the reader is encouraged to believe every word surmised. He writes, “the only thing found in morass of trees & grasses / was my shadow barely alive / panting for my kiss / sleeping forlorn prince” (7), and instantly the reader is seeing a blurry reflection, curious, made to wonder who returns their gaze. A visual becomes haunting, created within the first few pages of the book, just as the author’s twin was supposedly formed and faded within the first few months of their mother’s gestation. The reader will have the opportunity to come to these profound conclusions through Luczak’s striking and meandering words. 

From the first page, Luczak makes it clear that there is a world of untapped information as it is shared or withheld by his mother: the pregnancy, the miscarriage, and the eventual birth. But Luczak will get to be the master of his own rebirth, for he dares to write. Beginning with 9 months, the narrator’s mother is outlined as a woman who changes her story repeatedly, and Luczak provides something akin to a logical quiz.

then mom changes details again

she says she had a d&c done in february 65

when she felt her fetus wasnt growing

it wasn’t even 2 centimeters long

no idea whether it was a boy or girl

i am no longer sure what to believe (Luczak 2)

As the final line reads, “I am no longer sure what to believe,” the tone is set as to how the narrator will guide the reader through the following pages as a co-detective, investigating story and truth—and if not these, comfort in discovery. 

A poem which exhibits the desire of the narrator to help, to save, to rescue his missing half is my corpse self.

the darkness of him

transparent

bright shining eyes

begging me to save him

alone in these woods (Luczak 8)

Loneliness may not sink in until many years after these childhood nightmares and yet it informs the present and future of the narrator’s life. This is lamentable and consoled by Luczak’s writing. For some readers, the idea of knowing a twin or sibling but only in a spiritual dreamscape will be painfully relatable. Knowing that we all cope with our absent loved ones differently, but with the same longing, is a solace. When reading if you were my twin, the reader may consider all the lives they may have led with their counterpart—how they must have relished in joy and commiserated in fear together. This is a pivotal aspect of Luczak’s work. 

wed play old maid gin rummy go fish

while the sun dappled shadows & light

through the mottle of pine trees above us

wed never talk about them boys

being alone with you would be

a cake slice from heaven (Luczak 30)

There is a sense that the narrator and his Deafness, his being bullied, or his need for companionship is experienced now through the writing of this work as a balm to his heart, and the reader is aware that in the way that Luczak so deeply feels, he communicates with equal depth. When missing pieces of history pester our memories, we fill in the blanks until our stories feel like ours. 

Luczak offers a direct poetic style in his phrasing that is accessible and reads with fluidity. His use of shorter lines and his dismissal of punctuation helps the reader pace and process the content as seen here in london dreaming, especially as this piece displays a dialogue and a meeting between two characters.

i was born in america

brighton boy here he says

or something like that

as i haven’t had a chance 

to turn on my hearing aid

so im never sure (Luczak 49)

The internal conflict presented by the narrator is heartbreaking, curious, and brings the reader right into the present moment of the poem, its issues, and its uncertainty. A perfect example of this is repeated in its inverse, this time with remedy and assuredness, in my first phone call.

waiting for the phone to ring back

with him not saying anything

because he knew how

i didnt need to hear his voice

to know he was my best friend (Luczak 66)

Luczak expresses the title’s concept with poems varying from a double helix kyrie in english and asl gloss to holy communion. His poems are stories of reflection, whether in form or in spirit. The work of the words is not only in their construction, but in their meanings, as each chosen word is placed to fill an empty space where someone (a twin, a best friend, a lover) may have sat. If we are to see ourselves as dynamic beings—fully known and loved besides—as Luczak describes with his poems in Once Upon a Twin, there may be a desire to know this “other twin,” this counterpart mentioned so frequently. Yet continue to inquire until you know thyself along with Luczak, and there is an opportunity for an important connection to the author and to one’s own dreams, wishes, and ultimately one’s own soul cells. 

As with a telephone call, so with the sharing of a slice of cake, and Luczak has a masterful way of describing the presence of absence with daily living experiences so that the poetry is, for the most part, resting on the wings of all that didn’t make the page. Luczak’s work helps the reader understand they are not alone, no matter how lonely. There is solidarity in knowing how the creativity of one’s life may free us from the darkest corners of mystery. 

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Sara Paye (she/them) of Las Vegas, Nevada, is an awarded writer and Creative Writing MFA candidate at Sierra Nevada University. Paye’s published works are in Funicular Magazine and The National Women’s History Museum, among other locations. See their website at sarapaye.com.

Sierra Nevada Review vol. 32 Author Bios

Fierce Sonia is a mixed media artist. She builds layers with acrylic paint and collage. A narrative is constructed by the tension between the lush layers moving to dreamy feminine mindscapes with a brighter palette. If you listen closely her work has a soundtrack, a rhythm, a pulse that will give you a magic carpet ride to a fairytale that restates your own heartbeat. Fierce Sonia can be found at https://fiercesonia.squarespace.com/, https://www.facebook.com/fiercesonia,
and https://www.patreon.com/Fiercesonia.

The cover art “Equinox Queen” was inspired by the stillness and quiet that came with our first real snow storm in my new wild and wonderful home of West Virginia. I love the creativity that can be unleashed in these hours of stillness. This piece begins the story of seasonal changes and the beautiful complexity of nature.

 

T.J. Butler lives on a sailboat on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay with her husband and dog. She writes fiction and essays that are not all fun and games. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Pembroke, Levee, Flash Fiction Online, Tahoma Literary Review, New South, and others. Her collection of short stories, “A Flame on the Ocean” is forthcoming from Adelaide Books. T.J. Butler can be found at https://tjbutlerauthor.com/ and on Twitter.

The inspiration for A Stalled Line at CVS, 9 p.m.: I was at CVS a few months before COVID, and I was struck by how perfectly outlined my life was on the perfume shelf behind the counter.

 

Ariella Carmell is a writer living in Southern California. She graduated from the University of Chicago, where she was the recipient of the Olga and Paul Menn Prize for Playwriting. Her writing can be found in Alma, the Brooklyn Review, Maudlin House, Spry, Bare Fiction, and Literary Orphans, among others. She was a 2015 and 2016 winner of the Blank Theatre Young Playwrights Festival and the 2019 Michael Collyer Memorial Fellow in Screenwriting, awarded by the Writers Guild of America, East. To paraphrase Joan Didion, she writes entirely to find out what she’s thinking.

 

Leanne Drapeau (she/her) is a teacher and writer from Connecticut. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and an MFA candidate at Randolph College in Virginia. She has poetry in B O D Y Literature and forthcoming from The American Journal of Poetry. You can find her on Twitter @DrapeauLeanne.

The inspiration for On Making Love to, and Breakfast for, My Rapist. On Keeping His Lighter.: I thought I was writing this essay (which I call “the lighter essay” in my head because the actual title is long and triggering) to answer lingering questions. It turns out I was writing it to forgive myself and to heal. I hope others find healing in it as well.

 

Faith Ellington is a PhD student at Louisiana State University, where she lives and writes.

 

Annie Fan reads law at Oxford University, where they were president of the poetry society. Their poetry appears or will appear in Puerto Del Sol, The Offing, Ambit, and PN Review, among others. They are currently working on a commission in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Barbican Centre in London, and their pamphlet “Woundsong” is forthcoming from Verve
Press in May 2021. When not writing or studying for exams they can be found trying to recreate viral pasta recipes, buying too many earrings, and basking in the sun. You can find them tweeting at @gnomic_aorist.

The inspiration for Triple Sonnet to Surviving White Men on Tinder: The dating scene at Oxford is, quite simply, terrible and terrifying!

 

Steve Gehrke has published three books of poetry, most recently Michelangelo’s Seizure, which was selected for the National Poetry Series. His awards include an NEA, a Pushcart, and a Lannan Literary Residency. He teaches at the University of Nevada-Reno.

 

Mara Lee Grayson is a writer and race rhetorics scholar originally from Brooklyn, New York. Her poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Mobius, Fiction, Columbia Journal, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and shortlisted for the Slippery Elm Prize. Grayson is the author of two books of scholarship and is
an assistant professor of composition and rhetoric at California State University, Dominguez Hills. She currently resides in Southern California. Mara Lee Grayson can be found at maragrayson.com or on Twitter. You can read more of her work at http://mobiusmagazine.com/poetry/34years.html.

The inspiration for this work: A friend recommended I watch old episode of Forensic Files; these poems are the result of that Netflix binge.

 

Rhienna Renée Guedry is a queer writer and artist who found her way to the Pacific Northwest, perhaps solely to get use of her vintage outerwear collection. Her work has been featured in Empty Mirror, HAD, Oyster River Pages, Bitch Magazine, Screen Door, and elsewhere. Rhienna is currently working on her first novel. Find more about her projects at rhienna.com or @cajunsparkle_ on Twitter.

The inspiration for Time For Small Animals: This poem was inspired by learning that small animals experience their world in slow motion, due to their metabolic rates and body mass.

 

Junmoke James is a student at Lehigh University. She hails from Marietta, GA and in her free time enjoys playing tennis and online shopping.

 

Emily Karl has been published in Amsterdam Quarterly and ZYZZYVA. She holds a B.A. from Middlebury College, an MLIS from San Jose State University, and an M.A. from San Francisco State University. Emily is originally from New England and has lived in California since 1989.

 

Christen Noel Kauffman lives in Richmond, Indiana with her husband and two daughters. Her hybrid chapbook “Notes to a Mother God” (forthcoming, 2021) was a winner of the Paper Nautilus Debut Chapbook Series. Her essays, poems, and stories can be found in A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays (forthcoming, University of Nebraska Press), Tupelo Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, Willow Springs, DIAGRAM, Booth, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, and The Normal School, among others. She can be found at christennoelkauffman.com or on Twitter.

 

Barbara Lawhorn is an Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University. She’s into literacy activism, walking her dog, Banjo, running, baking and eating pie, and finding the wild places, within herself and outside in the world. Her most recent work can be found at Poetry South, Flash Fiction Magazine, High Shelf Poetry, and White Wall Review. She lives and writes joyfully in the Midwest with her favorite creative endeavors, sons, Mars and Jack.

The inspiration for Underground Volcanoes was born out of my youngest son telling me about finding a dead cat on his way to the skatepark, how deeply sad he was, and how supportive his skateboarding crew was.

 

Cassie Leone is originally from the Bay Area, California. She completed her BA at Smith College and her MFA at UC Irvine (expected May 2021). Her work can be found in The Roadrunner Review, Foothill Journal, Salt Hill Journal, and others. She is the co-editor and co- founder of Thuya Poetry Review. She’s been awarded the Lynn Garnier Memorial Award for poetry, the Nora Folkenflik Award for Excellence in Poetry, and the Academy of American Poets Prize. She currently resides in San Diego, California with her pet rabbits.

 

D.A. Lockhart is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Devil in the Woods (Brick Books 2019) and Tukhone: Where the River Narrows and the Shores Bend (Black Moss Press 2020). He is a Turtle Clan member of Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit (Lenape), and currently resides at the south shore of Waawiiyaatanong (Windsor, ON-Detroit, MI) and Pelee Island. His work has been generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. He is the publisher at Urban Farmhouse Press and poetry editor for the Windsor Review. You can find D.A. Lockhart at www.wazhashkpoetry.com, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

 

Aimee Lowenstern is a twenty-two-year-old poet living in Nevada. She has cerebral palsy and is fond of glitter. Her work can be found in several literary journals, including Soliloquies Anthology and The Gateway Review.

 

T.S. McAdams lives in the San Fernando Valley and has plastic grass for reasons. His fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Santa Monica Review, Pembroke, Faultline, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, MonkeyBicycle, and other fine periodicals near you. You can find T.S. McAdams on Twitter.

 

 

Californian Maya Savin Miller graduates high school in 2021. Maya’s prose and poetry have appeared in Cleaver, Cargoes, Up North, Hadassah, Battering Ram, Polyphony, Bluefire, Skipping Stones, and jGirls Magazine with new work forthcoming in One Magazine. Her writing has been recognized by Princeton, Hollins, Columbia, Rider, Scholastic, Library of Congress, Skipping Stones, Blank Theatre National Playwrights Festival, and Leyla Beban Foundation. She was a 2020 finalist for Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate. And her story, “Trudie’s Goose,” adapted to film by Israeli filmmaker, Liran Kapel, was an Official Selection of Cannes and a finalist in its Emerging Filmmaker Showcase.

The inspiration for this work: Here Lie Our Bones, like most of my writing, is informed by the web of my life experience and, moreover, by my own attempts to process those experiences.

 

Claire Nicholson (she/her) currently lives in Maine, where she was born. She is a graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York and enjoys plants, bagels, and ultimate frisbee. Nicholson has previously been published in Gone Lawn and Modern Poetry Quarterly Review. You can find Claire Nicholson on Twitter, or at  http://journal.gonelawn.net/issue38/Nicholson.php and http://www.modernpoetryreview.com/poetry/two-poems-by-claire-nicholson/.

The inspiration for this work: I wrote Girl in the Mirror to investigate how my conception of self is influenced and distorted by others around me and my awareness of their perception.

 

Sean Nishi is a writer from Los Angeles, CA. He completed his MFA in creative writing at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. His work has appeared in STORGY, Poydras Review, TIMBER, Tatterhood Review, and Streetlight. He lives with his partner and two cats, Toby and Waffles. You can find Sean Nishi on Instagram or read more at https://storgy.com/2020/12/28/christmas-is-a-sad-season-for-everyone-by-sean-nishi/ and https://timberjournal.org/archive/squish-me.

 

Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí is a writer and editor from Nigeria. His works have appeared/ are forthcoming in AGNI, Joyland, No Tokens, Agbowó, Southern Humanities Review, the McNeese Review, among others. He is a staff writer at Open Country Mag.

The inspiration for this work: The poem Grief Season came to me on a cold night while I was out smoking. In the distance, automobiles shined their lights, “burning arts parade”—and then my grief finds expression.

In the unbecoming, I wanted to capture what it was like the day my mother died, how they washed her body and wrapped her up and gave her to the earth.

 

Brevin Persike has worked shifts at factories, scrubbed oil out of concrete floors, painted walls later to be destroyed and flipped three-dollar burgers at a fast-food joint, but none of that has struck his fancy. His writing derives much of its inspiration from the woods of northern Wisconsin where he grew up, and the slow-moving life along the Mississippi River that he grew accustomed to during his undergrad. Now he finds himself in locked-down Edinburgh, wandering through parks and empty streets. His work can be found in From Arthur’s Seat and the Catalyst.

 

Miyako Pleines is a Japanese and German American writer living in the suburbs of Chicago. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University, and her work has appeared on the Ploughshares blog, Hypertext Review, Hapa Mag, and is forthcoming from The Rumpus, Electric Literature, and others. She writes a column about birds and books for the Chicago Audubon Society, and you can follow her on Instagram @literary_miyako. Links to her work can be found on her website, miyakowrites.com.

 

Kacie Prologo is a Rust Belt writer who has spent her life wrapped up in the kinds of familial mythology that runs rampant in her hometown of Alliance,  Ohio. As a student in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing program, Kacie spends her time translating this family folklore into both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been featured in The DillyDoun ReviewFearsome CrittersThe Finger Literary Journal, and Weasel Press. You can see more from Kacie Prologo at https://thedillydounreview.com/kacie-prologo/, https://issuu.com/fearsomecritters/docs/v3_issuu, and http://thefingermag.com/2021/01/1723/.

The inspiration for Grease Guzzlers came from some of my own experiences working with my town’s state liquor agency.

 

Chuck Radke‘s memoir, Stuccoville: Life Without a Net (WiDo), came out in January, 2021. His creative nonfiction is forthcoming or has appeared in The Showbear Family Circus, Palante, HASH Literary Journal, and Montana Mouthful. His short fiction has appeared in Mud Season Review, The San Joaquin Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Gulf Stream Magazine, and The South Dakota Review. He is the recipient of an AWP Intro Award for fiction and the Estelle Campbell Prize for literature from the National Society of Arts and Letters.
Chuck works and writes in Fresno, California.
You can find Chuck Radke at https://charleslewisradke.com, https://www.facebook.com/charleslewisradke, and on Instagram.

The inspiration for this work: With a nod to Robert Olen Butler’s short story, “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot,” it was persistent jaw pain, manifested as an inability to eat and speak well, that inspired me to write Pretty Bird.

 

Claire Scott is an award-winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam, and The Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.

 

Aarron Sholar‘s piece In the Event That the Wildfire is Heading Your Way and Cannot be Stopped was inspired by his reflections on surgical experiences as a young, transgender man. He has had pieces published in 45th Parallel Literary Magazine, Polaris Magazine, and Scarab Magazine. He pursued his undergrad at Salisbury University, MD and newly resides in Mankato, MN.

 

 

Dorsía Smith Silva is a Pushcart Prize nominee, Obsidian Fellow, and Professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Superstition Review, Porter House Review, Portland Review, Pidgeonholes, SAND, and elsewhere. She is also the author of Good Girl (micro-chapbook), editor of Latina/Chicana Mothering, and the co-editor of six books. She has a Ph.D. in Caribbean Literature and Language. Her website is dorsiasmithsilva.com and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Sarah Swinford was raised somewhere between a small town in Northern Germany and the suburbs of Houston, Texas. She first began writing and performing her poems at a German poetry slam club and was previously an associate poetry editor for Glass Mountain Magazine. Sarah has a BA in English from the University of Houston and is currently pursuing her M.Ed. at the University of Houston – Victoria. She is writing from Magnolia, Texas. Read more here or find her on Instagram.

Carter Vance is a writer and poet originally from Cobourg, Ontario, Canada currently resident in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. His work has appeared in such publications as The Smart Set, Contemporary Verse 2, and A Midwestern Review, amongst others. He was previously a Harrison Middleton University Ideas Fellow. His latest collection of poems, Places to Be, is currently available from Moonstone Arts Press.

 

Jacqueline Vogtman received her MFA in Fiction from Bowling Green State University, and her work has appeared in Atticus Review, Connotation Press, Copper Nickel, Emerson Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Mud Season Review, The Literary Review, Versal, and other journals. She teaches English Composition and Literature at Mercer County Community College, where she is Editor of the Kelsey Review and co-advises the student creative writing club, SOUL. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and dog.
Wilder Family was inspired by the deer that populate our semi-rural corner of New Jersey, and, sadly, by two deer I’ve hit with my car, the first right around the time I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, and the second more recently, as my daughter is beginning to grow up and away from me.

 

Elise Wallace is pursuing an MFA in nonfiction at the University of New Hampshire. Her writing is inspired by coffee-shop anecdotes provided by years working as a barista, her Appalachian Trail thru-hike, life experiences rooted in emotional memory, and the tenuous division of truth and fiction. In addition to studying the essay, she explores overheard phrases through her project Found Aloud. For her hiking blog she records conversations with hikers and incorporates their stories into her writing. She is writing from New Hampshire but will always call North Carolina home. She can be found at elise-wallace.com.

 

Adam D. Weeks is an undergraduate student at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland, the social media manager for The Shore and a poetry reader for Quarterly West. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has poetry published or forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Poet Lore, Sugar House ReviewPuerto del Sol, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere.

 

Chila Woychik is originally from the beautiful land of Bavaria but has lived in the American Midwest for many years. She has been published in Cimarron, Passages North, and others, and has an essay collection, Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology (Shanti Arts, 2020). She won Storm Cellar‘s 2019 Flash Majeure Contest, Emry Journal‘s 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award, and double-finaled in the 2019 Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction Contest (Cutthroat). She currently tends a small farmstead and continues to be enamored with the concept of time. She edits the Eastern Iowa Review. You can find her at www.chilawoychik.com.
Her essay A Clock Tower Keeps Its Seconds Even When the Bells Forget to Ring reflects the truth that time progression is something we can’t control, and she is rather fixated on that idea.

Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever by Heather Routh

2020
Fiction
$25.99; 306 pages
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1-9821-3246-0

 

 

 

Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever
by Heather Routh

Rachel Beanland’s debut novel is based on a real-life family story, passed down through generations. It explores the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect one daughter while silently suffering the loss of another. In Atlantic City in 1934, Joseph and Esther Adler’s youngest daughter, Florence, drowns while training to swim the English Channel. Eldest daughter, Fannie, is on strict hospital bedrest due to a high-risk pregnancy. Fearing that the news could cause Fannie to lose the baby, after losing one the year before, Esther decides to keep the tragedy from her for the remainder of the pregnancy—the entire summer. 

This becomes more problematic than Esther could have guessed. The news must be kept out of the paper, as well as their close-knit Jewish community, and the doctor and hospital staff are sworn to secrecy in order to minimize the risk of Fannie finding out from someone outside the family. This leaves the family without a support system to help them grieve. Soon they become deeply entwined in a web of complicated lies to cover Florence’s absence. Although this is done from a place of love, the effect isolates Fannie further. Everyone must guard what they say. It becomes easiest to avoid visits with her altogether, including the nurses on her ward, making only the necessary daily rounds but no longer staying to chat the way they once had. Her husband, Isaac, finds it a convenient excuse to visit only a few days a week and very briefly. Poor little 7-year-old daughter, Gussie, is kept away from her mother during a most confusing time.

I was most intrigued by the idea of writing a historical fiction piece where so much time had passed since the actual event, providing time to erode facts as well as open the possibility for exaggeration of elements due to repeated retelling. How does one find balance between preserving the family memory and building a compelling story? Beanland answers this by providing a thought-provoking tale filled with complicated and beautifully flawed characters. According to the author, a few characters are composites of real family members, while others never existed outside the author’s imagination. Yet they all come to life in the book, drawing the reader into tangled relationships and family drama.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, weaving in their story, their connection with Florence, and how they are coping with her death individually. We learn a lot about Florence through their eyes. It also provides a nice comparison between the characters, such as Stuart’s desire to prove his differences from his father—he is unwilling to use his family name as a leg up in life, preferring to work hard to achieve his own success. On the other hand, Isaac, who comes from humble beginnings, prefers to scheme and plot to get ahead, most often to the detriment of those closest to him. He is always looking for the next big thing that will provide the most reward with the least amount of effort. Although Esther is a devoted wife and mother, she is extremely judgmental, often unwilling to uncover the entire story before misjudging those around her. Many of her decisions seem selfish and rash. Meanwhile, her husband Joseph is much more level-headed and willing to help anyone that might need it. Sisters Fannie and Florence are separated by more than just age, but also by their life goals and dreams, each unable to see the value in the other’s choices. 

Beanland has done a remarkable job recreating 1930s Atlantic City for readers—immersing us in wonderful detail of the lifeguard stations, the boardwalk with the bizarre Couney’s incubator exhibition, and the family-owned beach hotels—as well as the growing bureaucratic struggle American Jews undertook to help their European family and friends emigrate from Nazi Germany while they could. One can almost feel the hot, muggy coastal climate and cramped living conditions adding to the tension and frustrations the family is experiencing.

Florence Adler Swims Forever is a well-written, poignant historical fiction from a gifted storyteller exploring a family’s love and sacrifice in an uncertain time. It is well worth the read.

*

Heather Routh is a Marketing and Advertising Copywriter and Social Media Strategist. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her three sons and three dogs, and is obsessed with 70s rock albums, classic muscle cars, and murder mysteries. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada University.

We May Not Have To Walk Alone: A Response to Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life by Sara Paye

Copyright © November 2020
Poetry
$12, 33 pages
PANK Books
ISBN is not yet available

 

 

 

 

We May Not Have To Walk Alone: A Response to Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life
by Sara Paye 

Readers of Kimberly Ann Priest’s Still Life will walk through (not over, around, or under) victimhood to pedophilia. The cover image warns, while the yellow circle in its upper left-hand invites. The setting must be winter, for bare trees enshroud a black and white photograph of a one-story house, with a porch and gravel lot in front. Our narrator creates poetry from the point of view of someone in a small, quiet town, where nothing needs saying, where silence wins. 

Throughout Still Life, Priest outlines and draws images that captivate the imagination, so the reader seeks to turn through pages as a participant, to walk though scenes with caution and curiosity. She writes, “their fingers probing like dental tools inside a timid orifice” (12), and instantly the reader is in an uncomfortable dental seat, violated, made to believe it is all so necessary. A lie becomes rote, supposedly “for good.” The reader will have the opportunity to come to these profound conclusions through Priest’s gracious prose-like poems.  

From the first page, Priest shows specific and personal scenes describing her pedophile as master of some small space: the humid bathroom, the kitchen while making breakfast, or perhaps the front lawn, scattered with toys. In my pedophile is performance ready, the pedophile carefully corrects an analog clock, and Priest provides a striking image.

he reshapes the face of the clock… the 0 in 10 sucking in its sides to impress his audience as he squeezes his hand around the 6 / reaches for a 5 / changes his mind // asks for a 4 / drinks soda water out of a cup // the 3 taking a deep breath / noticing the outline of the 1 (Priest 15)

As the final line reads, “noticing the outline of the 1,” there is a slight innuendo or associative thought that allows the reader to almost become triangulated as an involved character in the vignette, helpless to protect. 

A poem which reflects the lasting pain of sexual assault is my pedophile times all my future orgasms

if he says we have time it is the shape of the glass // how it is blown with air // how the glassblower covers its mouth and handles its bulb // how light is a word for knowledge / weight / and touch // how all are invisible // and if I believe it is time it is the bubble / the oxygenated seed (Priest 16)

Sexual trauma which takes place years ago informs the present and future. As readers lament, Priest’s writing consoles. For some readers, their left hip will remember trauma better than the conscious mind. Knowing that we are not alone in this phenomenon is a solace. When reading my pedophile dates all my future partners, we may consider how walking around unseen but longing for visibility is suddenly as perplexing as it is pivotal to Priest’s work. 

the bourgeois matter of a latte / smiling emoji / gleaming bright teeth // how it makes a horror of laughter / its simpering witnesses texting themselves clean // the excuse of himself in the bathroom / the break room / the Ramen noodle joint near the corner of Mac and Albert streets (Priest 22)

There is a sense that everyday things like latte foam or the ability to walk to a favorite restaurant are experienced now as memory-tainted privileges, and the reader is aware that freedom is not the reality for everyone. When past trauma influences memory, psychological trappings may keep us from walking forward. 

Priest offers a direct poetic style in her phrasing that is accessible and reads with fluidity. Her use of shorter and longer lines coupled with forward slashes or double-forward slashes helps the reader pace and process the content as seen here in the first poem presented in the chapbook, my pedophile is obsessed with details, as well as with others.

the hard wood floors / he says / are essential // having nothing to do with my hands or my feet / or how they are connected to my body // or how he wants the right to space everything symmetrically // rearrange a life in the most appropriate way (Priest 3)

The imagery and choice of subject are tactile, sensory, and bring the reader right into the present moment with the narrator, her acute observations, and her questions. A perfect example of this is in my pedophile feels the need to dance

wraps himself in yards of cellophane / shoots himself full of tiny white spines // from where? // unknown // but this is too much to juggle // too much to jugular / gesticulate / ejaculate / believe // so porcupines are freed and this seems to satisfy the audience / disinterested (Priest 21)

Priest expresses the title’s literal concept with phrases like “a couch fainting with love” (10). The inanimate object takes on the emotion and ability of a person. If inanimate objects embody emotion, as is often the perceived result of trauma, then perhaps those bodies who inflict trauma may too be stilled or frozen by way of always being on their victims’ minds—perhaps they become Still Life. As with the dance, so with the clock, and Priest has a masterful way of describing lewd acts juxtaposed with daily living experiences so that the poetry is, for the most part, in the allusion. Priest’s poetry eases the reader into understanding that they are not alone. There is solidarity in knowing how thoughtful and precise language may free us from memory-frozen places. 

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Sara Paye (she/they) of Las Vegas, Nevada, is an awarded writer and Creative Writing MFA candidate at Sierra Nevada University. Paye’s published works are in Funicular MagazineThe Stay Project, and The Ice Colony. See website at sarapaye.com.

Interview with Melissa Matthewson

Melissa Matthewson is an author who does not shy away from topics that are difficult to write about, and her first book, Tracing the Desire Line, a memoir in essays, is a testament to that fact. Matthewson’s work is the intersection of parts of her life: her interest in nature and the environment—she holds two degrees in Environmental Sciences—finding its way into her work as she writes about life on the farm that she shared with her husband and children, and her study of literary craft—she earned her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts—developing a lyrical, compelling, and risky story about a marriage and family and life from which she wanted more.  

After recently reading Tracing the Desire Line (Split Lip Press, 2019) I had the good fortune to get to speak with Matthewson about her book, which has just recently celebrated one year in publication. Matthewson is friendly and open, and her long curly hair blew in the breeze of the Oregon outdoors as we FaceTimed, each of us with a glass of wine in hand. She was generous with her time and thoughtful in her answers as I asked about the writing and publishing of her book.

The memoir explores many roles of the narrator’s life, but at the core of the story is the decision that Matthewson and her husband make to challenge traditional boundaries and open their marriage. I asked Matthewson about publicly sharing this intimate story, and she acknowledged  that yes, it was difficult to expose vulnerable parts of her life, especially having young children (they have not read her book yet, but they have been at a few of her readings where she carefully selected parts about them to share with her audience). She told me that when her children are old enough to understand relationships and marriage that she will encourage them to read the book.

Matthewson also indicated that writing about very personal topics does not come without a cost: she and her mother did not speak for several months after the book’s release, as her mother’s views on marriage and sexuality did not line up with her own. Over time, though, they have been able to work through their differences. I asked about other family members’ reactions to the book:  her in-laws told her it was a beautiful book and reading the memoir made her husband cry. He, of course, had read excerpts along the way, and several essays from the book had been published previously, but he found the entirety of the book quite moving.

No spoilers here, but I will share that Tracing the Desire Line does not answer every question a reader might have about Matthewson’s marital journey. I wondered if at her readings audience members asked about “what happened next”. She told me that sometimes she’d avoid answering a question if it strayed from the confines of the book, but that mostly the audience was connected to the material she shared and that felt fulfilling.  

Matthewson began writing essays about her life as she pursued her MFA, and she said that it took her seven years to find what she felt was the narrative through-line of her collection of work. As Matthewson compiled her work, she indicated that she had to fill in gaps where a reader might not follow the story and also that each essay can stand alone, but together, as a whole, the book makes a story.

After two years of restructuring what she had written, Matthewson found that because the structure of her book was nonlinear, fragmented, and experimental, it was a hard sell for big publishers. So she submitted her work to university and small presses. There were two publishers who wanted to buy it, and she decided to go with Split Lip Press.

She chose this smaller independent press for two reasons: they tend to work with first-time authors, and the editor she worked with helped her immensely. But also, Matthewson liked what the press focuses on: boundary-breaking prose books, work that questions truth, and writing that reinterprets what we know. Because Tracing the Desire Line pushes boundaries of what a marriage “should” look like and seeks to redefine a woman’s role as wife and mother, it makes sense that Split Lip was the right fit for her.

I asked if Matthewson has begun her next book, and if so, where she finds her inspiration for writing. She told me that she is very connected to nature and tries to walk about two hours a day.  She also shared that when she is feeling stuck, she reads or watches films to take in stories, and also that music is a huge source of inspiration for her. Despite writing about her own life, Matthewson told me that she has always been able to separate herself a little from the art, even in the crafting of it, which helps.  

As our conversation wound down, we laughed that she has a running joke with people in her life that “everything is on the table to write about”. As my last question, I wondered if her next book would be equally risky. She smiled and said, “Well…it’s exploring love, sexuality, and nature…so yes!”

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PamAndersonAfter 30 years of helping young people with their writing as a high school English teacher, Pam Anderson retired and decided to finally dedicate energy to her own work. She is presently pursuing her MFA in creative nonfiction at Sierra Nevada University. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Manifest-Station, Bookends Review, and Chicago Review of Books.