2 poems by Lise Whidden, Review by Brendan McEntee

                                               Guilt Defined

                                               A cognitive disease leaves flesh intact,
                                               yet every memory is invaded by an uncontrolled growth
                                               of cells which consume joy.

                                               Related words: It’s the not dying first that kills me.

                                               I can still hear him crying while I washed dishes.
                                               I muttered the word spoiled 
                                               until it was spelled in the bubbly dishwater.

                                               Hush, baby boy. Mama’s busy.

                                               He learned to sleep in his own bed,
                                               begging in the night to be held.

                                               Hush baby boy, go to sleep. You’re a big boy now.

                                               I bought the Ninja Turtle backpack
                                               he wanted so badly, filled it with pencils,
                                               paper, glue and Kleenex.
                                               He waved goodbye the first day,
                                               I kept my evening job because the pay was good.

                                               Hush baby boy, Mama’s coming home.

                                               He didn’t want a new Daddy to tie his shoes,
                                               only his mother knew how laces looped.

                                               Hush baby boy, he’ll be good to you.

                                               He played in every ballgame,
                                               I missed so many times at bat.

                                               Hush baby boy, Mama still loves you.

                                               Working summers at the Dairy Farm,
                                               he saved his pay, dug a deep ditch for the water line
                                               to the new barn and bought his own horse.

                                               Hush baby boy, Mama knows responsibility.

                                               He said he broke the bathroom window,
                                               but he hoped I’d never know who did it
                                               then he told me about the baby coming in July.

                                               Hush baby boy, tell me June lies instead.

                                               A Volunteer Fireman who raced
                                               to every fire, a cowboy riding bulls,
                                               bucking horses, his mother’s hero.

                                               Hush baby boy, you have nothing to prove.

                                               A Lineman before the hurricanes came,
                                               chased storms to make a way,
                                               held his children close till he had to go.

                                               Hush baby boy, I’m proud of you.

                                               Too many late nights, early mornings,
                                               hotel rooms in foreign towns
                                               only for a while he promised,
                                               only till I get straight.

                                               Hush baby boy, you can’t do this alone.

                                               The last day he promised, no more.
                                               He said he’d spoken to God,
                                               Cocaine counselors, whispered changes
                                               I dreamt about at night.

                                               Hush baby boy, I want to believe, but you can’t come home.

                                               He knew every combination to a safe.
                                               Sold his mother’s gun to pay the dealer’s debt,
                                               but an evil creditor knows weapons.

                                               They shot him with a gun I’d owned for years.

                                               Hush baby boy, hush, hush, hush….

                                               Nuclear Widow
                                               Indian Springs, Nevada

                                               In Atomic View Trailer Court,
                                               a woman watches Sky Road 
                                               melt in the heat
                                               and the only thing not sinking
                                               into the road is a turtle shuffling
                                               slowly toward the juicy shade
                                               blackberry vines provide.

                                               She went to Wonder World
                                               this morning, stocked up.
                                               Not that it takes much, 
                                               now he’s gone.

                                               She saw a soldier in town.
                                               He became a memory.

                                               She misses husband sounds,
                                               farts, belches, snores,
                                               his voice telling those terrible
                                               glow in the dark jokes
                                               after a shift at the Test Site.

                                               If Mr. Broam walks by today,
                                               she’s decided to offer him a beer,
                                               a chair in the shade.

                                               He won’t buy her a diamond
                                               and diamonds might be a girl’s best friend,
                                               but at her age the school principal
                                               high on Cialis would be
                                               hot as sunshine on Sky Road.

                                               Lise Whidden


                                                                        *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

                                                                       Review by Brendan McEntee 

In less than a hundred words, Lise Whidden creates the experience of the life of this woman, complete with history, loss, carnal longing and humor: that is no slight achievement.

Borrowing the sensibility of Edgar Lee Masters for her title, we’re given a character and a location—she’s lived past her husband, and she lives near an Air Force Training ground, a pop-up town reminiscent of towns from the Gold Rush, but with very different purposes.

“a woman watches Sky Road
melt in the heat
and the only thing not sinking
into the road is a turtle shuffling”

The sky, often seen as a road to heaven, is melting, and only a turtle, persistent in purpose, is designed to really survive. The turtle is natural to the environment, however, the road, the foreign element fails; indeed only the turtle can move freely. Everything else, it would seem, is stuck, working for a future that didn’t pan out. Indeed, the names of the places in the poem, “Atomic View Trailer Court,” “Sky Road,” “Wonder World,” underscore an unfettered optimism of a different age as well as the honeymoon promise of a new marriage. But the husband and his sounds, the comfortable life that has been settled into, is gone. In a world of compromise, instead of companionship:

“…at her age the school principal
high on Cialis would be
hot as sunshine on Sky Road.”

however, this doesn’t imply that compromise is a bad thing, indeed, the poet seems to imply the opposite. Take on the world that you have, don’t be deflated by impossible promises of a future tomorrow. While you can’t force growth in a desert, the single principal, with his performance enhancement, is only off-putting if one views him as such. Moral prurience doesn’t count for much when you’re dead, and, the poet suggests, memory, with all of its untidy emotional encumbrances, continues with the living:

“She saw a soldier in town.
He became a memory.”

We are reminded with these two lines that this is a military town, a factory for creating soldiers who are at once immediate and abstract. The subject of the poem has been a peripheral character to the military presence. “Soldier” is a loaded word, invoking everything from duty and dedication to fear and hate. That he is gone, like all soldiers processed through to the world, that he remains a memory, marginalized yet haunting her experience, and that she has learned to live with them, able to muse on the seduction of the principal, is the point. Yes, life goes on, the poet tells us, but it is as messy and sticky as Sky Road, and we are all too easily ensnared. The brief, expressive glimpse that the poet provides into the life and world of the nameless widow is inspired.

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