Jehanne Dubrow: Dots and Dashes (Southern Illinois University Press)
In Jehanne Dubrow’s latest poetry book, Dots & Dashes, she enlightens her readers by showing them through beautiful words how hard life can be being a wife of someone in the Navy. Dubrow gives a voice to spouses of military personnel, exploring …. She writes about being the wife of a Navy Officer and brings a new awareness to her readers about the difficulties of life when a family member is left behind in such a real way that her readers can’t help but be captivated.
The book has three sections: “Please Stand By,” “Calling All Stations,” and “Over.” Each section brings new poems and new meanings involving the military. Dubrow explores what it means to be the spouse of someone in the military and speaks about complex topics that are hardly spoken out loud. In the first section of the book, the speaker starts on the topic of waiting for her husband to come home. It sounds like she has surrendered her cares a bit, speaking in the poem, “Reading Poetry on Maryland Public Radio”:
I haven’t heard him speak
in four months,
and when I learn, a year from now,
that phones were possible, that any time
he could have dialed me from the ship,
Distance is a place
some people love
like the site where land
becomes a line
vanishing, deep water
the only view.
Shortly after “Reading Poetry on Maryland Public Radio,” once the man she married comes home, she compares him to a ramrod, saying he is a beautiful antique, always standing at attention; he has become a heavy, straight, narrow person, always at salute. In “Ramrod,” she speaks about the man that she married and how she asked for a man and got someone completely different. She seems sullen at times and struggles to cope with the man that comes home to her. In “Ramrod” she writes:
Perhaps I wanted an officer, only I thought I said a man,
but sometimes transmissions have a way of breaking
at the place one needs precision most of all,
so that whoever read my message at the other end,
put in a form for officer when all I asked for was a man…
Dubrow delves into what it is like talking to other military wives as well. She explains that they will always try to change the subject to something else, “what about the weather, we say, what about the lonely shadows of the afternoon…” the conversation is always brought back to the deployment of their husbands and how heavy it feels for all of them to be carrying the weight of their heartaches. The spouses seem to always find each other, because they know the same grief and want to have somebody to share it with, somebody who knows what it is like to be lonely.
In the second part of the book, “Calling All Stations,” Dubrow explains how from the very beginning, the man she married was not fully hers. In “When I Marry Eros,” she illustrates for us that even on their wedding day, between them was “a window curtained to the world.” She tells her readers how no matter the time a call came, her husband would have to leave and give a “yessir,” “slipping into the chill of coveralls.” Dubrow creates an image for her readers to help them understand that at any given time he could be called back to service and there is no stopping it.
Both spouses are always thinking about war and when it will come again. Thoughts about the past always reside between them. It seems their identities are aligned with the military now and they know no different anymore. Dubrow writes a poem in the last section of her book called “SOS” and depicts the tension that being in the military can cause in a marriage.
The ship is lost, has suffered casualties.
If we are ships we too have signaled land
or called each other in the dark. We’ve scanned
the sky for help. We’ve said emergency,
a sequence made of silences and tones.
And when it ends, we’ve said seelonce feenee.
The sea says nothing back. The anchor groans.
Their union, compared to an anchor, is groaning and straining. Dubrow explains how grueling it can be trying to relearn how to talk to your spouse after they have been gone for so long. There is always a push and pull between them and communication can be hard. Dubrow writes in a miraculous way how exhausting it can be being a military spouse. There are feelings of loneliness, endless survival, and a strain in relationships. She pulls the curtain away and reveals the most vulnerable and sensitive parts a person feels being left behind.
Marina Stroud has served as an intern for Pleiades. She was also a social media and web editor for the University of Central Missouri’s literary magazine.