V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




Throughout Green Bodies the music of language
and the texture
of words carry
the reader through the difficult content.

Pick up any a book of poetry and it is likely you’ll find lines of music that weave in and out of the poems to unite the text. In Chrystos’ Not Vanishing desire and want whisper under the louder phrases of cultural violence. In Audre Lorde’s The Complete Poems of Audre Lorde sage wisdom is the base line of poetry which seeks political justice. In Minnie Bruce Pratt’s Crimes Against Nature shame is the dog fight returned to in the larger march of understanding a female sexuality which has been marked as culturally deviant. In Rosemary Winslow’s first book, Green Bodies, such musical threads compose the rich sounds of memory, violence, and forgiveness.
    Animals play a counter melody in Green Bodies, which takes the title from a poem on hummingbirds. Divided into three sections, the first section of Green Bodies focuses on dead animals or animals to be killed. The family pet is shot by the father after having kittens on a bed in “Father-Stuff.” The author guts a fish in “To a Fish.” Two adult sisters and their mother pick “the pinkish meat delicately” after the father dies in “Driving: Night Along the Susquehanna.” In the second section, humans are animals. In “Carnal” a child “knew what animals knew.” In “The Gothic Truth,” to be punished for telling a secret, a young girl is cut by a grindstone, “blooding   was white!   bone!   like animals / inside her   too!” In the third section, animals live, “I hear / hidden birds / coming alive” (“5 a.m.”), a fawn escapes coyotes (“The Dark Rustling”) and elephants protect and “know their kind” (“Watching Elephants on Television”).
    If animals are the minor chords, then family members are the major. In Green Bodies Winslow describes the death of a father as the trigger to remember the past. Indeed the last poem of the first section has foxes who “waved off / through a door they opened in the grasses.” The door opened is memory, memory of violence: “what memory is this?” Winslow asks in “Chasm” because she has forgotten “almost / all,” but as she writes,

        some say it is
        impossible to forget
        and they are correct
        she didn’t
        and they didn’t

    Though the little girl persona in the poem was threatened, “Don’t tell again Never Never Never,” whether or not she keeps to silence is irrelevant because she is not believed. She is told to “Stop—making things up!” (“A Story”). The poems in the second section describe child abuse by a grandfather, such as “Carnal” where “that girl there under the stairs / couldn’t move this is   dead.” Other poems recount how, after the grandfather’s death, the incest was continued by the father, like a terrible inheritance. In “Four Five Six …,” which complicates the childhood chant “one two buckle my shoe” and organizes the repetition of incidents, “nine ten do it again,” in a chilling recasting of expectations:

        she began –
        one two
        unbuckle the shoe
        three four
        open the door

        and she did
        and he did

    Such moves challenge expectations and rewrite narratives about childhood innocence. Mary K. DeShazer speaks to this challenge of hegemonic stories in A Poetics of Resistance: Women Writing in El Salvador, South Africa, and the United States. DeShazer writes that such poems “challenge traditional generic and formal categories by breaking down conventional literary divisions and hierarchies.” Indeed in “A Story” when the girl child reveals the abuse to her mother, she lacks the vocabulary to describe how she was violated. Vagina becomes “belly” and penis is “that man hit / her hit her / put that thumb thing / hurting!” She is forced to invent her own language and is told:

        they said   don’t cry
        they said   don’t make trouble
        they said   don’t lie

    When a child does tell, but nothing is done Winslow reminds readers of the cultural silence surrounding child sexual abuse. Such poems are hard to write, but Winslow does it well, in part, because she pays special attention to sound. Throughout Green Bodies the music of language and the texture of words carry the reader through the difficult content.
    In the final section of Green Bodies, Winslow tries to rationalize how parents could perpetuate and endorse family violence In “Mother, Then & Now” Winslow describes the emotional abuse done by a husband to his wife:

        And her husband my father
        loved her but soon determined
        he’d rather have married her sister…
        or else the neighbor…
                                    And other
        things happened to her
        and some to me
        and some the same, it seems . . .

    “Mother, Then & Now” is a poem of mourning, a poem that depicts the loss, the distance created between a mother and daughter by violence. Winslow writes, “How young and beautiful she was! / How she is going away from me forever.” But section three does more than seek to understand how violence endures in a family: it shows how we heal, how we forgive, and how we learn to love the good parts from abusive pasts. In “Naming the Trees” Winslow writes about the father, “I think about him how his life was / how he stays in me loving the earth / how what he did was done in pain.”
    Ultimately, Green Bodies contains poetry of witness, poetry that speaks out and against violence. Winslow does not sensationalize or romanticize this story. She tells it through music. Follow the discordant and melodic cords to the “electric” hummingbirds who are “more alive / than this / pure desire” because, like the poems which move past the pain to the present, “everything / they want / is now.”

Green Bodies, Rosemary Winslow. Word Works, 2007. ISBN: 091538067-6 $10.00

© by Laura Madeline Wiseman


Contributor's note
Next page
Table of contents
VPR home page

[Best read with browser font preferences set at 12 pt. Times New Roman]