Poems by Sally Rosen Kindred, Mayapple Press, 2011.
by Sherry Chandler
Sally Rosen Kindred accords God His full awfulness, in the original and now archaic meaning of the word: “inspiring reverence or dread.” Scattered throughout No Eden is a series of poems re-imagining Noah’s Ark. This Flood is not a children’s fable or a theme park; it is a dreadful event in which we’re shown “the bloat and rot of bodies bumping / the ark all night like dumb fruit” [“Animal Dark”] and Noah is asked “What / do you do with your arms / beneath a God gone this wrong?” [“To Noah”]. No Eden, indeed. We are, rather, in the realm of the Old Testament father god, Jehovah, at his most vengeful, as indicated by these lines from “Noah’s Wife Remembers.”
. . . I think God
set a rainbow in the sky because
it was the one place He hadn’t found Himself breaking.
Woven into the framework of this bleak myth are two categories of seemingly autobiographical poems. One group tells of a childhood blighted by a mother who withdraws into alcoholism. The other mourns the speaker’s barrenness, her second-motherhood of her adopted son. In “Second Mother,” “the sepia drip and hum / of his first mother” runs deep through the child’s dreams.
This personal thread is interwoven with the mythic in several ways. The son is named Noah. His crib sheets are printed with the paired animals entering the Ark. In the seven-poem cycle “Seven Sorrows,” the stories of Lilith, Eve, Miriam, and Mary are entwined with those of the fertile drunken mother and the barren daughter. The poem ends:
I can’t climb all the way to seven. But sorrow
I know: sorrow has mothered me from this day
in the kitchen when I said I am hungry
and holy silence emptied every spoon.
Sorrow has mothered me could be the thesis statement of Kindred’s collection. No Eden is a book steeped in bleak religious imagery and the sorrow of the holy silence. Her girl child cries for the Rapture but gets instead a ride to Orangeburg in a red Thunderbird with a hole in the floorboard to a “blue-wraith house / where the good dolls can’t sleep” [“The Road to Orangeburg”].
Although these poems are filled with loss, Kindred’s verse has a lushness that makes them a pleasure to read, especially aloud. Consider, for example, these opening lines from “Recurring Dream: Grief Woods”:
Don’t let me walk these woods again
in white corrective shoes. Not again,
wet pines, my mother the shade
unbroken. And not what’s coming;
thin wingbones of light flap
through branches and fracture
a bit of skin on my knee or hand.
The first two lines establish a regular iambic meter. Line three begins with a spondee and shortens the line. Subsequent lines roughen, halt the meter until it regularizes again in line 7, with just a bit of a skip in the third foot. The most irregular line of all is the most nightmarish, those “thin wingbones of light” that flap. Almost every word in that line gets a strong beat. It forces a reader to go slow. And through the whole poem we hear those whooshing alliterative Ws, as of flapping wings.
No Eden is about hunger: hunger for a merciful God, hunger for the mother. The book is saturated with color, especially red. Red is associated with the flood and with the mother and menstrual blood. Eve’s apple is cut and left to brown over like “gauze / once bloodied” [“To Eve”]. The mother’s miscarriages are a “garnet defeat” [“Our Liliths”], the den where she passes out has a “red-wine mouth,” [“Dreaming Blue Roses”], the speaker yearns for “beets on a white plate,” the “dark burgundy taste of my mother’s soil and sleep” [“Yearn”], and in “No Eden,” a poem of great longing for the mother, angels “won’t throw their garnet ribbons down.”
Garnets, called carbuncles in the King James Bible, have a high refractive index and were thought to light up at night. Gemstone lore has it that Noah used garnet lanterns to navigate the Ark after dark, and nearly every one of the eight poems about the Flood mentions garnets. Thus, in “To Noah,” when we find Noah horrified at what it has meant to be the chosen of God, he is admonished:
look at each face and into the wilderness eyes
. . .
of your own righteous hungry people and ask them
to lift the garnet lanterns
and lead you all the way back up into this world.
And “Noah’s Wife Remembers,” forty years after the flood:
Either it is or is not enough
. . . to love a world where the wrong things
In Kindred’s vision, what seems to light the way may be at once the right beacon and the wrong thing. Life-giving mother nurture is battered by a deadly father force, but it is not destroyed. Salvation is found in love for an imperfect world, perhaps an imperfect God. Ask yourself, she says, in “Least Breath:”
if you will be the dove, gray bird
that returns bearing gospel green,
or the raven, spool of unraveling pitch,
the bird that does not come back.
Sherry Chandler’s first full-length poetry collection, Weaving a New Eden, was released in March, 2011 by Wind Publications. She has had professional development support from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Her work is most recently published in Calyx, The William and Mary Review, and The Cortland Review.