Review by Bernadette McBride
If memory is “the weight of stones,” as Geraldine Connolly writes in “Aileron,” the situating poem of her latest book of the same name, it finds its balance in the poem’s counter challenge, a hint at the title’s allusion to flight, to triumph: “The air divides as I pull up to climb, / to turn and tilt, to stay aloft,” introducing the host of lucid images and points of reckoning that unfurl throughout the collection as the speaker navigates through childhood’s brief, peppered season of innocence into the increasing anxieties and losses of adulthood which invite us into the world that has built her.
These poems are akin to a an autobiographical film, the lens through which we view a chronicle of childhood joy in outdoor play on a family farm in western Pennsylvania amid the tensions of indoor family life where children escape into imagination’s comforts, as well as its growing pains: ultimately losing the farm, not simply to sale, but to complete demolishment — what, in “Legacy,” takes from the speaker and her family more than the physical spaces like “the hayfield and the creek, / …the silo, the corncrib, / the orchard, the creek bed,” but also leaves the family emotionally, spiritually adrift as they “…watch from / [their] distant dwelling, / dreaming the past / still exists.”
We accompany the speaker on both her actual, outward journeys as well as her interior forays toward understanding: in a move to Montana, where, in the poem of the same name, nature’s lush affords “Zen mountain after Zen meadow after Zen stream,” and onto Phoenix, where, in “The Border,” the speaker’s “sip[ping]…morning cappuccino, while sunny “patio flowers bend in the breeze” is juxtaposed to the border-crossing small boy who “All day… follows the shadows…All night…crawls through the desert…” —while in “Being a Female,” the persistent social challenges of gender in a man’s world show up:
I am sick of my hair and my lipstick,
my mascara and eyeliner.
and my unspoken comments, tired of
my small footprints and the bandage over my mouth.
… tired of men repeating my remarks,
pretending they were theirs.
Though much of Aileron wrestles with the darker underpinnings of memories’ weight, there are enough moments of relief to provide a balance for all the relatable experiences that speak to most, if not all of us, who are able to master the mettle needed to maneuverer through grown-up lives, not only in beautiful descriptions of nature throughout, as in “Buckeye”[’s] “soft moss,” “bubbling creek,” “a rabbit rustling in the ferns,” or the happy times of “Childhood Play” where, from linen closet gatherings,
We built our hut…
Like minnows, we dove
into swells of pillows.
We loved, we sang, we played.
We slept. We nibbled popcorn
and peanut butter crackers.
but in spirit as well, conveyed so clearly in “My Granddaughter’s Face,” a poem filled with love and wonder and a measure of contentment that seems to reckon, finally, with it all:
of a flower like you, Adela,
unfolding before them,
a creamy, heart-shaped blossom
uttering birdlike syllables.
The features of our ancestors
are filigreed on your skin.
a hearkening back, as age advances, to familial attachment, of honoring the past which continually manifests in the present —and offers hope.
Throughout this collection, Connolly paints scenes of pain and sorrow, nostalgia and melancholy, countered by leaps of spirit, as events, as they must to keep life’s tenacity on track, barge in at the most needed, if unlikely, times: “All we make / becomes comfort or grief.”
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 3.
See all items about Bernadette McBride