cancel stars by William Crawford, Review by Zoe Guilherme

                                                                        cancel stars                                                                                           
                                                                        gypsy thrush                                                                            
                                                                        she rinses the stillness                                                                
                                                                        which reminds her 
                                                                        of the cornered hobby horse

                                                                        in a diminishing static
                                                                        best expressed by silence

                                                                        and soft slumberous
                                                                        ponies in pain
                                                                        dreading rides 

                                                                        with gaping yawns
                                                                        and gypsy ukulele

                                                                        in her eyes
                                                                        speckled clutches
                                                                        gently cupped
                                                                        in the shape of a dream
                                                                        descending into song

                                                                        she is no frozen rose
                                                                        clipped by perfect teeth
                                                                        aching with early empathy

                                                                        of motion created
                                                                        just to suspend itself

                                                                        some premature destiny
                                                                        some absent creation

                                                                        the true aim
                                                                        corrupted by
                                                                        sudden awakening

                                                                        a rather late blooming
                                                                        fiery saxophone bell
                                                                        limpid melody
                                                                        blowing notes 
                                                                        against the black relief
                                                                        of colors at once
                                                                        grievously colliding

                                                                        her father’s hands
                                                                        after the war
                                                                        touching her

                                                                        inside some sudden night
                                                                        their softness gone
                                                                        too hard to be his
                                                                        yet they are

                                                                        all over

                                                                        William Crawford


                                                                        *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

                                                                          Review by Zoe Guilherme 

I believe this poem depicts a series of painful and complex emotions. The first clue is the title. Why ‘cancel stars’? What happens when stars are ‘cancelled’? This title is an immediate foothold into the poem. The second clue is ‘gypsy thrush’. If we break this into two components, ‘gypsy’ gives us an evocative image of environment, a way of life, while ‘thrush’ conjures a bird image — but the word is also associated with infection. These four carefully chosen words are compelling and subtly build tone.

Throughout the poem, the author gifts the reader with more such well chosen words, for example, ‘soft slumberous’ and ‘gently cupped’. In the context of the poem, these are strong sexual images that arouse suspense. They create a map that gives the reader an expansive and emotional window into the darkness of a landscape without stars.

I sense that this poem is about a young person, as evidenced by the hobby horse, ‘early empathy’, ‘premature destiny’, and confirmed further into the poem with the mention of ‘father’. Each stanza is built with pace and offers many examples where the choice of images sustains the tone implied in the title and the first two words of the poem.

In this first section of the poem, the reader is forced to question what exactly is it now, still, that she rinses? We rinse with water to cleanse. In this poem, without an overt articulation of the unspeakable crimes, we understand that the abused subject attempts to cleanse not only the physical violations, but also the inescapable damage done to emotional, spiritual and mental well-being, as well as the traumatic memories of how innocence was lost. These are the moments she can look toward — a ‘static’ childhood — as represented by ‘the cornered hobby horse’.

We are slumberous, of course, as we sleep — but these hours are her hours of pain. The persistent, alliterative ‘s’ adds to the tone. The repetitive ‘s’ can be a beautiful sound but here the author uses ‘rinses’ and one thinks of water; slippery, silent, sinister. Throughout the poem, the author provides the reader with short lines, enough breath to allow each line to permeate, paying particular attention to the weight of end words such as static, silent, slumberous, and pain, before moving to the next.

“gypsy thrush

she rinses the stillness

which reminds her
of the cornered hobby horse

in a diminishing static
best expressed by silence

and soft slumberous
ponies in pain
dreading rides”

It is impossible to comment on this poem without mentioning the end. As Mark Twain would say, ‘these words are not lightning, they are the lightning-bug.’

“inside some sudden night
their softness gone
too hard to be his
yet they are” – The breath one is encouraged to take here is imperative.

“all over” – Two very small words that utterly shake a reader’s heart.

Each word, breath, even the tone of the poem, is wedded to its eventual yield. Although the tone expresses the dark elements of the abuser, the environment around the events, it never forgets to pay care and empathy to the abused.

This poem is necessary; necessary both for those who have been abused as well as those who have not. It’s a painful indicator that abuse scars deeply and permanently, not only for the person suffering first hand, but also for those nearby and even those who come later. Abuse perpetuates and we must not stay outside looking in, believing it has nothing to do with us. Every child everywhere is everyone’s responsibility.

Every poem should imprint at least one line, one stanza that remains within and refuses to leave. A reader will not forget the final stanza, the final breath, and the ultimate two words, ‘all over’ – they send us straight back to the first line, where we see the ‘hush’ hidden in ‘thrush’ and begin re-evaluating the poem. I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to bear witness to an excruciatingly intimate piece of family history. The author held my hand and spoke quietly and eloquently.

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