Reviewed by Erica Goss
“Step upon the earth/as if it is melting.” So begins “Prime Meridian,” the title poem of Connie Post’s new collection. Centered on the abuse Post suffered as a child at the hands of her father, these laser-focused poems explore memories, environmental decline, and how pain and redemption connect within the human body.
The book opens with “Fault Lines:”
A small earthquake
fifty plus miles
from where you live
That “small earthquake” signals the movement of fault lines not only deep underground, but deep within the speaker’s memory. Announcing the reckoning to come, she writes, “you haven’t spoken to your family / in fifteen years // you wonder how much longer / a fault line / can maintain its own silence.”
The silence of what cannot, as yet, be named, forms the metaphorical grave for Post’s “smaller self,” the “barely thirteen-year-old / girl lying lifeless / pretending no one will find her” (“Four Miles from the Center of Town”). And in “After Winter,” that “small invisible girl / is falling backwards,” into the past where memories form their own truths.
A harmless-appearing scene—a girl practicing a hula hoop—unfolds in “Hula Hoop Turns 50.” The mood shifts, becoming dark and foreboding; the “shoop shoop” sound of beads in the hoop alerts her father, who “walked towards me / so often / watching me intently, the motion of my hips.” The child’s innocence is already fractured; on high alert, she “started practicing in the side yard, / but he found me anyway.”
“Gardening” takes us inside the house where the abuse took place:
After my father
would beat one of us
he would place flowers
on the kitchen table
“The ordered way / the flowers were arranged” confirms the father’s guilt, which the children witness:
we were called to breakfast
we ate waffles
and said nothing of the raging blooms
The blooming flowers in the vase on the table echo the marks of his anger on their bodies.
In “Looking for the Father’s Name,” we see into the mind of the perpetrator, who justifies his actions by blaming the victims: “I didn’t do anything / to those girls they didn’t want.” As she leaves her father’s grave, the speaker reflects, “I hear the earth groan / as if it too / knows / how painful it is / to hold you / inside itself.”
Living in the same town as her father, the adult Post writes of encountering him “now and again.” In “Sunday in September,” they see each other at the grocery store. The poems starts out with an uncomfortable recognition:
I saw you exiting the grocery store today
It’s been over twenty years
since we’ve spoken
you, whom I used to call Father
When police arrest a man for stealing some food, Post’s father, “a slightly hunched over / old man,” leaves. The lines “the police / reading Miranda rights / to someone else” illustrate the hypocrisy of the real criminal simply driving away from the child, now woman, he exploited. One wonders where the police, who “barricade the entrance,” their “siren lights / unmistakably quiet and measured” were when this man was abusing his daughter.
In spite of its subject, Prime Meridian is a hopeful book. Survival begins in the confrontation and acceptance of memories, no matter how difficult. As Connie Post writes in “For All of Us Who,” “I need to tell the truth.” There can be no higher purpose for poetry.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 1.
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