The desire to make something like this project came last summer, when my grandparents’ house in Oostburg, WI—the house that is closest to “home” for me—flooded after unprecedented, unrelenting rain. Among the items caught in the flood were boxes of family memorabilia, including scrapbooks and photo albums, as well as my “baby book” containing the only (to my knowledge) surviving instances of my mother’s handwriting and the photos that remain of her. What resulted is a sort of image-text hybrid/collage exploring the ever-complicating process of grief and questioning that follows a parent’s suicide.
Most of the images in “Absence Makes” come from those scrapbooks and photo albums rescued from my grandparents’ lower level. Because of the materials’ ongoing deterioration, I decided to photograph them and compose digitally rather than in hard copy. All of the other images were photographed by me, too, before being edited and collaged with those retrieved from the flood. My own poetry and notes are combined with words excerpted from others, including passages of the King James Bible and Jill Bialosky’s book Asylum, which deals with the death of the poet’s sister by suicide and heavily alludes to Canto XIII of Dante’s Inferno (where the souls of those who attempted or completed suicide are transformed into gnarled trees).
This project is my attempt to imagine my mother, to break through my own lack of memory and knowledge to better understand her and grapple with her death. “Absence Makes” is my way of honoring, interrogating, and re-imagining the connection between us, and whatever my inheritance as “my mother’s daughter” might be.
"Absence Makes," in Plain Text
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Absence makes the heart grow
Absence makes the heart
Named for: Herself!
January 21, 1993
Nancy Ann Tanck – Mother
Jessica Valerie Tanck – Our Baby
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers... shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 KJV)
-very simple language-ordinary speech/ profoundly human + social
🡪 you take a small word + evacuate it to the point where you try to fill it up
🡪 God as perhaps not loving?
Or a generous gesture outwards?
/comment on human nature
“God” is conspicuously not in this poem
-the un-prayer: does it say that prayer is impossible?
-Eden as a horrifying beauty—filled with the grief
Of being human
Inhabiting Eden 🡪 post-Edenic
-the impossibility of connection + the great failure
“For ye are bought with a price:
therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” (1 Corinthians 6:20 KJV)
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy;
for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are.” (1 Corinthians 3:17 KJV)
The poem being annotated is Louise Glück’s “Matins”—the bracketed parts are the ones visible in the background of the poem:
“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” (Psalms 147:3 KJV)
With all my love,
“You be more specific.
I tried and it didn’t pay off.
It’s going to be too long then.
I feel mad—it really doesn’t matter.
I try, but I don’t know every fact.”
“You haven’t really thought th—through,”
“That is a mean reply.
🡪 I guess I blew it!
That makes me madder than you can imagine!
How do you know what I thought?”
(from Spandel and Stiggins’s 1990 study, “Creating writers: Linking assessment and writing instruction”)
“because to want/ was to tempt the gods,” (“IX.” from Jill Bialosky’s Asylum, p. 15)
“or guess, for... images”
(from Eliot’s The Waste Land: “Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/ A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,”)
Because we did not know,
or failed to know,
were afraid to know,”
(from Jill Bialosky’s Asylum, p. 99)
Like most things worth fearing,/ it was invisible, the danger
“In Loving Memory of
Nancy Ann Tanck
Born May 15, 1963
At Rest February 17, 1999
St. Mary of the Lake Church
Saturday, February 20, 1999
At 11:00 a.m.
“Lord make me an instrument of Your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury pardon; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
—Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Christian Undertaker Services
(from funeral mass prayer card)
I love you with all my heart!
“keep quiet” (from “XXXII” in Jill Bialosky’s Asylum, p. 99)
“ghosts/ who made their own house/ their gallows, Dante says, / will never rest” (from “XXXII” in Jill Bialosky’s Asylum, p. 99)
Jessica Tanck lives and writes in Salt Lake City, where she is a Vice Presidential Fellow and Ph.D. student in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, Kenyon Review Online, The Los Angeles Review, Meridian, New Ohio Review, and others. She serves as the Managing Editor of Quarterly West.
Photo by Денис Токарь on Unsplash
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September 21, 2021
this is really beautiful and touching and inspiring. my mother is 99 and I have tried many times to write about her and my feelings and relationship with her, I’ve also used collage, and I love your combining words and images in the way you did. Thank you