(New York Quarterly Books)
Review by Linda Scheller
Connie Post understands the price pain exacts on the body and psyche, and she writes about it exceptionally well. In Between Twilight, her new poetry collection from New York Quarterly Books, the speaker clearly grew up in a state of suffering, yet the book’s tone is matter-of-fact. Whereas many people temper pain and the aftermath of trauma with chemical interventions, distraction, or repression, the speaker in Between Twilight deploys candor to turn pain and the memory of suffering into wisdom.
Readers will immediately notice the paucity of punctuation in Between Twilight. The absence of internal and end punctuation suggests the persistent nature of trauma and the weariness exacted by the battle against pain. Here are the first three stanzas from “Fibromyalgia”:
The doctors say the neurotransmitters have lost their way the grass has grown too tall and covered a road once known they say the language of synapse is tinged with a song too loud a symphony gone mad
Post’s lack of capitalization suggests stream of consciousness, and the metaphors of grass and music convey the mind’s tendency toward associative thought.
A similar intimacy of imagery and ideas can be found in “Estrangement”:
and soon twenty years of silence has passed you watch a burning city from far away and notice a pigeon flying towards you gaining speed pulling the sky’s edges with it
Whereas this poem considers the distancing effect of time’s passage on painful memories, other poems express deep appreciation for the present. The speaker’s contemplation of warm, close companionship at times borders on disbelief, sometimes accompanied by the anticipation of loss or an acute awareness of the loved one’s pain.
Post’s sensitivity and capacity for empathy are brought to bear in “Living the Days of Corona” (74-75) where she uses a simile from popular culture:
after dinner I find a new graph on the trajectory of deaths in my region I watch the curve spike and see small images of people falling off the back like that scene in Titanic when everyone fell off the ship some to the ocean some to the decks below some plummeting some holding on some lonely when the water froze their stories in time
The scene is heartbreaking, and Post’s decision to echo that moment of the film to comment on the pandemic is both apt and vivid.
One of the most poignant poems in Between Twilight, “All My Wounds Are Self-Inflicted,” opens with “burn marks,” proceeds to skeletal calcification “from dilapidated memories,” and then:
I practice how to breathe through self-persecution It doesn’t hurt anymore anyone can wash their body in a lather of scorn that numbs the skin
That there is no end stop preceding “It doesn’t hurt anymore” is typical of the poems in this collection, but here we encounter one of the rare instances in which capitalization is used outside of the first-person singular pronoun. That distinction draws special attention to a statement that consists of only four words, a solitary line suspended between white space. Post knows how to pack power into small utterances. The simplicity of language and judicious understatement in “All My Wounds Are Self-Inflicted” imbue the voice of an abused child with stark authenticity. The stoicism in the two lines comprising the poem’s penultimate stanza, “I counted the bruises the next day / and was proud that I never cried” elicit both pity and fury on behalf of the child.
Between Twilight is a collection of well-wrought poetry that gives readers ample opportunity to better understand and empathize with survivors of child abuse and persistent trauma. There are many among us burdened with painful memories who suffer in shame and silence. Poetry can help us heal.