by Pamela Manché Pearce
Green Bottle Press

"Because ‘it’s good for me,’ to get out and remind me I’m alive.
I have a night off from my husband’s dying."

The energy that flows from poem to poem in this collection is electric, a pendulum between the solitude of death and the heartbreaking reality of life. While one of the purposes of poetry traditionally is to evoke emotion from the reader, Pearce’s downright haunting imagery and impeccable use of figurative language—from similes and metaphors to personification and enjambment—take it one step further: the audience is living the anguish of her existence.

Right from the opening line of stanza one in poem one, “Tree of Cardinals,” the juxtaposition of being in her dead husband’s study while looking outside at winter—the season emblematic of death—and the havoc death wreaks on all elements of nature is compelling. In many ways, the allegory of death is almost portrayed as an unyielding companion in Pearce’s work. Moreover, the poet has an uncanny ability to push the limits of structure, as with the descending spiral staircase in “Foxed,” to establish her desired tone in conjunction with astounding sensory detail. For instance, “Foxed” is a dichotomy of discovery, one being a dead fox in the garden and the other being that same fox full of life in the speaker’s driveway, described specifically as “sunning himself, ruddy fur rippling, black boots and paws swaying from side to side.” The fox is not just living; the description demonstrates the detail in genuinely being alive. Similarly, “Structural Damage” embeds a running description of the gravity of tropical cyclones with one devastating event after another in the speaker’s personal life.

The compilation is flawlessly cohesive; the individual pieces read like a collection of observations intertwined together that peel back layer after layer of both what it means to live and what it means to die. Seeing the world through Pearce’s poetry is jarring, but it is reality. Only those who have endured such tragedy and illness can relate, and yet none describe it with such perspective and depth. The battle raging in the speaker’s own heart is clearly evident as she oscillates between knowing she needs to live because she is alive to drowning in despair and the darkness of loss. Interestingly, Pearce’s knack for unifying polar opposites is not all that different from what it means to be human: life and death, polar opposites, are eternally connected and inseparable. Consider such examples as “His dying consumed us, as had our love” and “We had kisses, and the morphine drip.” The imagery at times is unquestionably overwhelming, yet potent enough where it could stand on its own to convey the speaker’s message if nothing else was said.

Despite the grief, there is an eerie calm that indicates both acceptance and resignation throughout Pearce’s work. In many poems, particularly “Pantoum,” her use of repetition helps emphasize these feelings. She takes poignant phrases or lines and repeats them in the subsequent stanza, utilizing this scheme consistently in the poem. In others like “I Kiss Your Clothes Goodbye,” not being consumed by emotion becomes a gargantuan challenge, whether it is taking in the image of her late husband being slid into a body bag, “in a diaper and your blue bedsore boots,” or the fact that the speaker is setting out clothes for her husband, as she typically would, except it is for his final journey.

Pearce’s poetry leaves no stone unturned. The speakers in her poetry are fragile and vulnerable, but in typical Pearce fashion are also strong and resolute. As described in the poetry itself, they are adept at making bracelets from tin cans and Christmas wrap from toilet paper. In this book, every poem is its own entity, while all the poems are simultaneously one entity. Pearce’s command of poetry in conjunction with an eye for identifying similarities and parallels between entirely different concepts renders this collection a surefire must read.

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