the poet finds safety, acceptance, and knowledge in the flight of hovering over her childhood
STOP WANTING – poems by Lizzie Harris. Cleveland State University Poetry Center, Cleveland, OH, firstname.lastname@example.org. 2014. $15.95. 60 pages. Trade paper ISBN 978-0-9860257-6-1.
Lizzie Harris writes poems about childhood abuse, including sexual abuse by her father or older men, and a psychologically fragile mother who occasionally has suicidal thoughts. She circles around these however as a fragile bird herself simultaneously almost seeking refuge in these experiences and memories while hesitant to alight. Her poems thus have an airy quality while embodying knowledge of bad things about her past.
A sequence of four poems with “birdie” in the title makes explicit this metaphor of flight implying lightness yet also implying too a force of gravity. The poet knows there is no escape. Yet she is not ruined by bitterness or desire for vengeance. She does not develop or construct denial to try to protect herself. Neither does she open herself for forgiveness. The poet’s fate is the flight of hovering.
The unique ingenuity of the poems is that its metaphors of flight and also bathing, eating, riding in a car, touch, and others, while common and in the hands of most poets, mundane, in Harris’s use take the reader into entirely new nuances of sensation and novel, beguiling ideas about states of being. The title of one poem displays this playfulness with language and conventions, a kind of flight itself become a way of survival and oddly, a form of wholeness. “Rough Chronology”—the title of the poem—does not refer to a timeline in a life at all.
The poems are not all removal from and reworkings of pain. There is idealization too in the poet’s flitting look to her childhood. “My first love was yellow/gloves my mother wore to wash dishes. I won’t ever be this young again…, [from There’s Grass Somewhere, But I Don’t Know How to Find It]. Birdie knows sadness does not overshadow everything. She knows there are spots of greenness, and sometimes she does find them