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MILK

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Dorothea Lasky
  • Date Published: April 2018
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-940696-64-5
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 141pp
  • Price: $18.00
  • Review by: Kimberly Ann Priest
Save your congratulations and your flowers
My baby is sunbathing on the moon
And with the eternal blue light she glows
In her clear house, with shutters
Save your kind regards, and visits
With doughnuts and kisses
Save your little nothings that amount to nothing
Save it save it
Purple green and christened blue
—from “Save Your Flowers”

Why do I love this?! Why do I read this book and just love, love, love it?!

Because we’ve all been there, suspended metaphorically or actually between life and death, damage and grief, birth and birthing, these spaces of WTF? where we desperately want to name the space and experience for the shitty, icky, unnameable thing it really is. That liminal emotional edge where, yeah, this agony might be transformed into something beautiful someday but please don’t name it that!

Yet beautiful it is. In her poetry, Dorothea Lasky does the work of naming for us, saying it as is, but in language and music that gets at the visceral and drags it, wet and sticky, to the surface. She takes power back. The power to say: “And if I am darker than light / Then let it be so” (“Poem for the Moon Man”). In MILK, Lasky secretes birth, death, birthing, dying, the loneliness of isolation and grief, miscarriage, hospital rooms, unresolved pain, and the milk of the body. At times I feel that her darkness is the darkness of loss, at other times the agony of raw experiential complications, sometimes the darkness of coddling and the insulated mind, and at other times a darkness of the speaker’s own making. I appreciate the way the poet turns these darknesses like a cloudy prism and gives its “light” so many different names, even namelessness, such as in “There is No Name Yet”:

Until I find a name
I will not put it in the soul calculator
I will leave it free and open and unnamed
And not limit my expectations for the kind of person
That goes in one direction of the wind
I will keep all lines of the wind open
And place all my days free and empty
And reenvision what it means to be unencumbered
Or bereft

These poems take us through a journey of the soul that few are willing to take, giving a close look at each particle of the self we fear to acknowledge. The dark parts. The fitful and frightened parts. The parts of our world we want to isolate, categorize, or forget. Even the people we want to forget, the vulnerable: “We make the elderly into prisoners,” says the speaker in “The Way We Treat Them,” “Giving them a white suit / To be transported from one place to another.” Or the grief we want to compartmentalize and force away, fix quickly with platitudes and pop psychology. Such is the experience of the speaker in “Become a Person” who seems to be grieving the loss of a lover—a grief to which others respond: “Be a person / Be a person again.”

This insistence from the outside does not surprise me. Loss, trauma, loneliness, and grief, are things that, socially, we scramble to avoid. We want the griever or the terrified to heal quickly, move on. We are uncomfortable with what we have too quickly named “darkness” rather than, perhaps, recognizing how much it lights our path toward authenticity, understanding, intimacy, and peace.

But these poems are not necessarily “we,” not universally so—if I am reading them correctly they are “woman.” They are her. They are “women”—that half-of-humanity-and-a-bit-more “we.” These poems are her body “white and soft,” “pull and suck,” “revision upon revision,” “nipples rising. . . . with the dead babies.” So says the speaker in “The Clog,” and continues:

How hard I yanked
She would never leave
I knocked and knocked
No matter what I did
Or said
I just couldn’t
get her out of there

MILK’s woman is trapped in a world of fantasy and fear, of lactation and cum, of men inside and around her, of definitions that shape and dismember, of babies—so many babies—some alive and some dead. Of the baby of the body that wails for comfort. The baby of the mind that seeks consolation. The baby that sucks and feeds and takes all of a woman’s energy. The baby of a man that does the same. The baby in the womb, in the basket, in the toilet, in the sink, in the hospital. . . the babies that can and cannot be saved. All of these traumas fissure and threaten to implode in “Is It a Burden”:

Spring and all
It’s perfection
Perfectly ok to be the sallow
Perfect skin and teeth
And shiny hair
And the bathroom clean
The curtains heavy, cream
Hanging to block the noonday sun
Perfectly

All of the perfection—“perfect children . . . perfect marriage . . . so perfect all the time”—being a burden of its own. The speaker in “Love Poem For Bathsheba” says:

In the very oddest picture
There is a split
On one side, a girl with a blank expression
On the other side, a girl with a smile
That is maniacal
She is the same girl
There is a mirror
The smiling face
In the reflection
It’s so odd
One girl, made into two

Why is a knowing smile so evil
I ask myself
And do not say
The question aloud
For fear that they will hear me

MILK is a knowing smile. The body will be the body, this book says. The “night” will “come” it says, “It won’t stop itself / The hormones / And all” (“If You Can’t Trust The Monitors”). So why stop it? Why not be the dark when it is a dark moment or time? Why not embrace the shadows of the moon, the many faces of woman, the whole tragedy of the body, the goddess with all her life-giving, death-dealing power? Harness this energy? In “The Dream,” she groans, “I woke up from the dream with the therapist still holding me. / But knowing the poems are things we can put on shelves.” The dream, the dream, the dream . . . that everything liquid, fierce, and fatal in woman would be a raw power the speaker herself could wildly express and wholly embrace.

Read MILK. Come drink.

 

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Review Posted on October 08, 2018
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