Charlotte the spider is a survivor. She doesn't depend on Lurvy to bring her food. She doesn't scrounge through the garbage for scraps of moldy bread or rancid meat. No. Charlotte manages for herself. Builds her own home. Traps her own dinner. In the end, she even chooses her own end, giving her last ounce of energy to save her best friend's life.
In my book bag tonight is hold still, Terry Godbey's newest poetry collection. These poems are a testament to anger and humor, despair and joy. They are psalms of survival. Breast cancer. Childhood. Motherhood. Hurricanes. Godbey's insights are razor-sharp, cutting open the reader's heart and pumping it full of music and hope.
Early in the book, Godbey includes this epistle of misery:
It rumbles and groans and quivers
our nerves, halting under its burden
of suicide notes, biopsy results,
missives saying they are sorry
but we did not qualify, did not win,
were not approved. Whose court summons
is that? Whose pink slip, eviction,
letter from prison? For years, we dawdle
on Good Luck Mountain, drink martinis,
sign the loan notes, fuss
with our hair and fold towels,
believing the ice train will skip us. Until
it grumbles and stinks and strains
into town, stalls the blood in our veins,
delivers a new anniversary,
breaks it to us we were cheated
out of severance, love is gone,
the test was positive.
It's a hard, gut-punching poem, each word a clenched fist. The ice train is coming 'round the bend, and it's loaded with lost health, lost jobs, and lost love. No one is safe, Godbey proclaims. We all have a ticket on this frozen locomotive.
Yet, in the middle of this desolation, there is laughter. Out of this maelstrom come moments of holiness. Godbey mines her dark material for veins of light:
When I was little
most nights I prayed,
elbows on the windowsill,
watching the sky for a sign.
Cold Canadian night
crept in through the cracks,
and he was out there somewhere,
scribbling a reply
in the Milky Way.
I pressed my moon face
against the panes
and watched snowflakes
land in his white gloved hands.
An image of a universe flooded with cold beauty and innocent trust. Everything's going to be all right. It's written in the very fabric of the cosmos.
That's the brilliance of hold still. In the middle of a long winter of heartbreak and ruin, her poems push through the impossibly frozen ground, unfolding petal by petal, syllable by syllable, into the promise of spring.
Terry Godbey's hold still teaches Saint Marty not only how to survive, but also to sing and dance and love.
|A poetic survival guide|