Melissa Reeser Poulin’s latest chapbook, Rupture, Light (Finishing Line Press), is a journey down the fathoms-deep well of human experience. The poet’s word choice and lines are clear and clean like cold water—and just as refreshing. Through this simplicity, Poulin plunges the reader into wanting, anticipation, anxiety, and joy.
The narrative follows a mother’s journey of wanting a child, conception, miscarriage and loss, and motherhood. When motherhood ultimately arrives, there’s both overflowing joy and an ache to protect the child in an uncertain and dangerous world.
Before I go further, in the spirit of disclosing my biases, Melissa is a dear friend and a member of my writer’s group. But even if she were a stranger to me, I can say truthfully this tiny book would be a fixture on my nightstand and bookshelf next to Mary Oliver and Denise Levertov. As a childless woman myself, this chapbook still resonated. It left me clutching my chest and uttering “Ooh” at lines that struck deep in my gut. Poulin is a master of using specific imagery and the larger allegory of flora to evoke the physical and emotional experience of human-hood through the lens of motherhood.
The narrative begins with wanting and loss. The tight stanzas and crisp imagery conjure physical sensation in the body. In “Nullus Partus” (literally translated to “no childbirth”), the reader encounters a viscerally powerful anecdote:
“at night I dreamed the child / was an astronaut / seeking me seeking / a planet to land on / and every day / she chose someone / else.”
Reading this scene, I feel my own skin thirst—the dull and intense ache of anticipation and disappointment. And yet, the heavy sensation of desire remains despite the painful loss:
“and my want / felt like an animal / beside me”
Flora of the Pacific Northwest appears throughout the collection—plants, seedlings, fruit, soil—apt allegories for the abundance, uncertainty, growth, and death surrounding the motherhood journey. This is most clear in “Fruit at Night:”
“Like a mother / I fret for you, / little apples / clustered on the bough”
“How can I leave / you, alone / in the branches / for my soft bed?”
There’s joy and abundance in the existence of sweet apples (a crisp symbol for “fruit of the womb”) but so much uncertainty and danger hang on the bough. The reader must sit in this tension of enjoying a sweet gift of life (an apple, a child) and the anxiety that life will fall away. An apple can fall from the tree; a child can die or be hurt. This tension is repeated again in Poulin’s award-winning and concluding poem, “Yellow.” A pending arrival is nearly here. The speaker is knitting a yellow kimono, waiting.
“I am making you a kimono, / yellow as the ordinary things of the world / you do not know."
This is a sunny introduction, bright and warm. There’s sweet presence and joy in the ritual of knitting. There’s light in the safe yellow things of the world:
“There are dandelions / here, sunlight on the butter dish.”
And then slowly and suddenly—like a frog in a pot—there’s rupture.
“yellow / as a young duck, a phone book, / the creek after rain. The yellow / of canary and caution. Slow down.”
Poulin’s transition here is masterful: a canary is a gentle, safe image of yellow. It is also a literal warning sign––a canary in a coal mine.
The poem continues with the paradox of yellow—safe and unsafe. Rupture and light. “Yellow” leaves the reader with the sensation of watching a ticking clock. I felt the anticipation of incredible happiness, the uncertainty of danger and pain, and the helplessness of being powerless to control any of it.
“So many things / I can’t explain. Subtractive, starting / with light. Most visible color. The yellow / of Judas, yellow stars, yellowcake. / I am sewing so slowly.”
Safety and sweetness in a fluffy, yellow birthday cake. Danger in the yellowcake of uranium powder. Rupture, light. For a reader, the desire and joy and anxiety is visceral. I was left wanting to read these poems again very, very slowly.
In one of the longer poems, “Working from Home,” the speaker openly acknowledges the beauty of saying more with less in tribute to the Haiku master Basho:
“To say more is sacrilege, Basho says. But I always say more.”
And Poulin does say more, but exactly in the way Basho intends. Rupture, Light is in every sense atomic: small and mighty. Atomic in its tininess—just 31 pages. Atomic in its tight lines, small stanzas, and simple, potent word choices. Atomic in its trembling power. Atomic in its artful testimony of the rage, grief, and joy of motherhood and human-hood.
Melissa Reeser Poulin is the author of the chapbook Rupture, Light (Finishing Line Press, January 2019) and co-editor of Winged: New Writing on Bees (Poulin Publishing 2014). Her most recent poems, reviews, and essays appear in Cider Press Review, Coffee + Crumbs, Hip Mama, Relief Journal, Ruminate Magazine, and Writers Resist. More at https://melissareeserpoulin.com
Up next, more poetry: you will dig me from the earth with your bare hands, in order to resurrect me.
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