Monday, July 22, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Scabbard of Her Throat

76º ~ "rain-cooled" but so far no rain, it surrounds us even as it refuses to fall on this particular patch of dirt, I search the radar and fume...5 minutes lapse and aha!  it rains!...ack, it stalls out...and stops...the wicked witch of the weather, she toys with me ... and now, the sun returns to steam us all

This morning, I spent some time with Bernadette Geyer's The Scabbard of Her Throat (The Word Works, 2013). Bernadette and I first met, briefly, at AWP several years ago, and had a chance to cement a friendship over a pre-reading dinner at this year's conference, where The Scabbard of Her Throat debuted.

This book is filled with delicate poems that seem, on the surface, full of fragility.  It is only as they accrue that the strength emerges.  Here are poems of girl, woman, wife, mother, and widow, poems that confront fairy tale myths and expose the pain and the joy of living.  Divided into four sections, each section begins with a sonnet "Thumbelina's Mother Speaks," and each sonnet is addressed to someone different from the tale: Thumbelina herself, the Witch, the Toad's Mother, and Hans Christian Anderson.  In these re-tellings and new explorations, Bernadette sets the stage for the rest of the poems in each section, poems of nature's threat (a wasp kills a cicada, a gust of wind nearly capsizes a boat, clouds descend and obscure, etc.) and poems of love (intimate love, familial love, and love of self).

As I set out to crack the book open, I paused to absorb the title of the book again.  Scabbard: a sheath for a sword.  And this, as in "her throat."  I found myself transfixed by the implications of this connection, of all the dangerous things a woman might consume, of how this implied language trapped, scarred, or sliced, of how we are impressed by the sword swallower's skill and magic, and how women are often like this, but in the every day mundane.  In fact, the title of the book comes from the poem "The Sword Swallower Finds a New Calling," which begins:

She swallows stones, now --
throat like a creek bed.
Started with pebbles. Palmed
several to warm them
before she plucked one ...

It is not much of a leap to think of all the metaphorical stones, those heavy life lessons, we are all forced to swallow, and unlike the sword, not so easily removed.  While there are these poems from the world of Thumbelina and from the world of magic (a la the sword swallower), the vast majority of the poems arrive directly from the every day world and what it offers us (good, bad, and in between).  One such example comes from the poem "Echo," about an echocardiogram.  Here is the opening:

It's like she said Here, have some pain,
and when I adjusted to that she said Here

have some more, ratcheting up
the transducer's pressure against my chest

to find not just my heart, but each valve --

In these poems of the every day, Bernadette approaches life with the keen observant eye I look for, I hope for, whenever I read poetry.  She lets nothing slide and confronts this mad, chaotic world head on, eyes and heart at the ready.


Jeannine said...

Sounds fantastic! Now I want to get my hands on it! Thanks for the write-up!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Let me know what you think, Jeannine.