Guest Editor Emily Fragos introduces six poets who write about family in all its bewildering incarnations—Matthew Zapruder, Cynthia Cruz, Gabriel Fried, Mark Wunderlich, Lynn Melnick, and Jennifer Franklin.
The poets I have chosen as Guernica’s November guest poetry editor use “family” in a variety of ways. But they all make the personal universal and the intimate a revelation, and they do this without self-pity or sentimentality. I was drawn by the deepening into humanness in each poem—lucid yet somehow mysterious—yet these poets did not try to be mysterious, which would have come across as pretentious and dishonest.
In Cynthia Cruz’s poem, the imagistic mix of dream pills, Molotov, confetti, and Black Hawks is disorienting, wounding, and as visceral as the death of a loved one. The poet’s edgy, jaunty check list is desperate to smother the past, is desperate to keep the beloved Billy, perhaps a brother, perhaps a lover, “still breathing.”
Jennifer Franklin writes of her love—with all its might—for a daughter with severe autism. Her raw emotions have transformed and consumed her. They seem at times to be more than she can humanly bear: they threaten to crush her alive. She describes her love’s conundrum: “I’m going / I’m staying.” The poem’s final image of an inescapable, tiny arm that is all-powerful is indelible.
Gabriel Fried’s narrative recounts the “lonely love affair with longing” of an ordinary man, an aging brother, who lives with his older, unmarried sisters. I confess that I grew up next door to such a family and never gave that aging bachelor a moment’s thought or consideration until I read this poem. My neighbor hardly seemed to exist for me. Gabriel Fried knows better and accords the kindly butcher his humanity in this gentle exploration of secrecy and fantasy.
In “A Poem for a Daughter,” Lynn Melnick fights hard for a future of optimism and hope, as she awaits, through boredom, anxiety, and sheer physical discomfort, the birth of a child. We participate in her own life’s past, hard events. We make declarations and discoveries along with her; we experience the heightened, surreal, surrounding world as she does. Finally, we arrive with her at a new door, opening.
Mark Wunderlich has fashioned his prayer poem after a real German prayer. He suffuses his poem with sacred lyricism as befits its intimate voice of confession and beseeching. His narrator prays for strength and compassion for him and his partner, in spite of sexual temptation, gnawing disappointment, and the ravages of age, the loss of beauty—our mortal condition. The poem lands on a small snapshot of otherness, of tenderness.
Matthew Zapruder’s reverie is so conjuring, detail-specific, that I could taste that mushroom soup, walk that narrow hall, exist in the poet’s state of melancholic separation. With one deft, swift stroke—a lovely simile of the rain as hippie beads of a curtain—his thoughts drift to the seventies and his parents; those unknowable others, laughing and smoking with joy, while their young son listened in bewilderment from upstairs. In an instant, the past joins and offers, perhaps, a clue to the disquieting present.
You are sure to have variant readings, but I hope you derive much pleasure from these poems.
Emily Fragos is an award-winning author of two books of poetry, Little Savage and Hostage (forthcoming, Spring 2011). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, Best American Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, The Boston Review, and numerous other journals. She has selected and edited four poetry anthologies for The Everyman’s Pocket Library: The Great Cat, The Dance, Music’s Spell, and The Letters of Emily Dickinson (forthcoming, Spring 2011).
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