Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Trembling Answers

A review by Eliza Factor

Do you ever have moments when you are brushing your teeth and realize with a sudden clarity that you have teeth, that they bite into flesh, that they are intricately shaped and rooted, that they are composed of such minerals as phosphorus? Phosphorous! Element number 15, blasted out of supernovae and glowing in the ocean. You are elated.  You want to celebrate this amazement with everyone you love, or at least someone you love, but by the time you’ve gotten the kids off to school, your mind has moved on to IEP meetings and dinner plans and the senator whose office you need to call. When you talk to your friends, all that comes out are goals and opinions and scheduling details.  Nor can you share your sense of wonder with your daughters.  You have learned from hard experience that they no longer want to talk about exploding stars unless they initiate the conversation.  And so your moment of delight sours into a nub of loneliness.  

If this sounds familiar, then you may find yourself consoled by Craig Morgan Teicher’s latest book of poems, The Trembling Answers (BOA Editions, Ltd.). Upon reading it, my mind probably leapt to toothbrush-centered revelations because his poetry rests so deeply in the quotidian and domestic.  His tools of day-to-day maintenance are all the more pressing and beautiful because in many of these poems the body being maintained is that of his son, born with an acute form of cerebral palsy.  A boy whose hand is “soft as tracing paper,” whose life is integrated with and dependent on “a certain amount of plastic,”  whose tending includes catheters and feeding tubes. Teicher’s sense of being encumbered and enlarged by his children is one I know well, but the way he turns these feelings into poetry is more mysterious.

I love these poems for their wit and kindness, their slaps of awareness, and their essential honesty about the limits of awareness.  It was difficult to select just one, for almost every page manages through mumbles or digs or sly appraisals to get at the sheer, lovely, agonizing beauty of it all.  But “Self-Portrait Beside Myself” is so very perfect for Broken and Woken, that perhaps it wasn’t that hard after all.

Self-Portrait Beside Myself

We’ve been lucky—March is over
and my son is still alive. My daughter
is about to crawl. And the golden
sunset light recalls
distant childhood light.
I feed my son while he sleeps
through a hole in his tummy
when the night nurse
has the night off,
and when I go to the mirror
it’s to see if the ocean-eyed man
the teenager I was had hoped to become
is anywhere in there.
The teenager is; he wants you
to see him, help him, tell him
he’s strong and gently
dramatic. He wants
to be part of a story, even
if not a true one. He wants
to fuck like mad,
even if I don’t. Standing over my son
at night, I feel quiet, only then,
no need to be me or anyone,
just listening to him breathe.
I can divide all life
into breath and waiting
for the next breath, and
the calm in the troughs
between. I wanted
to show you I could see the world
without me in the way; I can’t, not
even for a little while. I’m beside
that man watching over his son,
impressed with him and his humility.

But if that’s what it takes,
to keep my son safe—admiring
my better self rather than
being him—then ok. That’s ok.

Reprinted with permission from Craig Morgan Teicher.  The Trembling Answers may be purchased on Amazon or through his publisher, BOA Editions, Ltd.   

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