Review: Dutiful Heart
Poems by Joy Gaines-Friedler
Broadkill River Press
The people in Gaines-Friedler’s collection are often stumbling through the poems, not hearing one another, or in the wrong place and time, and always running up against loss. The poem“Test Trials,” for example, laments that a friend’s AIDS reached its end before “the cocktail” of new drugs “caught up to you.” Or the lovers in “Universal Paradox”: “He said I love you, meaning, / I have a plan for showing you. // She heard, I need you, meaning, / she’s no good at folding sheets.” The poems are accessible yet often take a startling turn in imagery to let us know that Gaines-Friedler does not settle for conventional wisdom or melodrama when it comes to writing of loss. In “The Year of the Horse,” friends unwilling to talk about difficult subjects (while in a Chinese restaurant) are said to “bring ther mothers with them / breaded and covered in a tender wrap.”
Ironically, one of the few people at ease in the poems is a dementia-afflicted mother: “Mom’s mind is untangling. / Someone said she’s become delightful,” in the poem “One Has a Mind of Spring.” And in “Cigar Smoke Lifting,” a father is described as “Surprised . . . that forgiveness would come to you / in your last days.” These lines speak to a paradox that motivates many of the poems, that the meaning of our lives change as our lives evolve and to fix the meaning in place is to do so temporarily, and that there is no final place for us to stand and reflect because our stories outlive us. The speaker of the poems, then, craves a lasting connection, such as in “Luna Moth”: “I want you to think what I think, / see it as amazing…”
Note: Gaines-Friedler’s poem “Truth Be Told” appeared in The Michigan Poet in 2011.