By Connie Post
Glass Lyre Press, 2020
Review by Debby Bacharach
In the quiet dignified poems of Prime Meridian (Glass Lyre Press, 2020), Connie Post keeps a tight focus on childhood abuse and its aftermath. Like in the hidden tree house where the child saves herself from the father (“When I Was in Grade School”), in these poems the truth can be told and believed. Post brings us through abuse, the fight to be heard, escape, and recovery. The structure compelled me forward, but I also slowed down and savored the poems because of Post’s craft: the oblique angles and controlled line breaks.
In these poems, we experience earthquakes, contaminated groundwater, fault lines, acid rain, and rabid dogs. The natural world falls apart, which is literally true, but also reflects the abused child’s experience and how overwhelmed she is by forces outside her control “and all she can do / is drink the water / she was given” (“After Winter”). Post often uses metaphor as displacement, as a way to talk about what can’t be said. So when Post writes in the poem “Ornithology” …
I want to know
how to find the thick power lines
how to balance
when the flock
leaves you behind
…we see birds, and at the same time we know it is a speaker’s life that has been left behind. When in “Raven in Flight” the speaker says, “The sky has never forgiven you / for your blackness,” the poem is literally about a bird, but from the context the reader knows it is the father that has not been forgiven. Displacing the accusation into metaphor gives it a slow, quiet power.
In most of the poems, we aren’t directly told the father is a “rapist of children” (“Sunday in September”), but the indirect approach raises the tension. In one poem the father follows the speaker around and stares as she hula hoops (“Hula Hoop Turns 50”). In “Accessory After the Fact,” the speaker washes the blood off the sheets. The attack happens between the poems, between the lines, and is all the more terrifying for not being on the page.
Most of the lines in these poems are short, giving them a slow, quiet tone, a calm after the storm instead of a rant. The poem “Gardening” starts with the line “After my father.” This line says so much. As a reader we already know that nothing was the same for the speaker after the father’s attack. “After my father” standing alone as a line makes me sit in the deep discomfort of that moment, focus on what that father did that I learned about in the previous poems. I also have a moment of hope because the poem is called “Gardening.” So, maybe after the father’s brutality, the speaker has saved herself with gardening, but then comes the brutal next line “would beat one of us,” so I then have to pay attention to all the implications of that—multiple children, reoccurring abuse—and then in the next line “he would place flowers” I learn the gardening is not a source of solace for the speaker but part of the abuser’s methods. Each short, quiet line builds the tension and power of the imagery.
Post consistently uses the power of the poetic turn as in “Daily Worship”:
just around the corner
screaming at you
from the steps of the same church
the confessionals crumbling
So, the mother is “just around the corner” close which might be good, a possible rescue, but then in the turn we learn “she is screaming at you,” so that hope of rescue is dashed for both the speaker and the reader. The church, with its implication of sanctuary and a safe place to tell secrets, is there, backing the mother up, but in the turn we learn that the confessionals are literally crumbling and by implication the chance of safety also crumbles. The short lines and turns of meaning in each line make them ring true, so when Post says, “teach yourself / how to leave a body / and then / how to return” (“How to Sort the Living from the Dead”) I believed this is the way to survive abuse.
In “To Someone I Must Forget” Post writes:
I keep wondering what must be said
to make my skin forget
calloused hands against a throat
This a book where the words will be found to not forget, and will claim, in fact, the bones of this body back.
This is a very good review of Connie Post’s incredible and daring book. I read each poem with chills down my spine.