Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review of Richard Krawiec's "Breakdown"

Review(Originally Published in Wild Goose Poetry Review)
Breakdown, Poems by Richard Krawiec
Main Street Rag, 2008, 45 Pages
ISBN: 9781599481142

Richard Krawiec subtitles his new collection of poems, “A Father’s Journey,” but from the beginning it is clear that this is no ordinary father’s journey, although it may be much more common than we would like to admit. In this father’s family

the girl steps willingly
up the gallows tips
her head back . . .
so her mother may
tighten the noose
(“The Family”)

Some readers may wonder at the choice of the word “willingly,” how such an event either literally or metaphorically could transpire with the girl’s consent, but the next poem, the title poem “Breakdown,” explains that, revealing a dynamic the survivor of abuse is all too familiar with:

now they enforce silence
with flowers cards claims of love
the repeated emphasis
on the suffering you cause
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
you believe in your fault
you can never be
sorry enough

And when the core of shame created through such a dynamic remains unhealed, the response can become even more frightful, as in the poem “don’t worry:”

she says she’s afraid
she might kill
her baby
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
she imagines the headline
mom murders sitter
and child
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
she tells you
the jump rope
would make an excellent weapon

Thus is the painful narrative of Breakdown, the story of dealing with a spouse’s breakdown, revelations of past abuse, denial on the part of the abusers, and the endless psychic trauma caused by the abuse and the denial upon the family of the abused. But even in such desperate straits there are still moments of joy, as in “Judging the Worth,” where an infant’s song awakens the narrator and then as he holds him,

it toooowl he says I agree
it is cold but his breath warms
my shoulder his chest protects my own
he burrows his arms between us
one hand pops free his fingers slide
over his thumb as if testing fabric
the weight and weave judging the worth
of this life he throws his head up laughs
his teeth small and bright as stars
the cherubic firmament of his face

Under these circumstances such moments might indeed rare, but here at least the child’s bright, radiant, cherubic face can only be seen as an affirmation that life is worth it after all. And that sentiment is repeated later in “The Insistence on Living,” where father and sons plant a garden, and the father meditates,

so what
if we are only going through the motions
if all our efforts are destined to fail
we are insisting on living
we are insisting
we are

This is a difficult book to read, but well worth the emotional cost it exacts. These are gut-wrenching, hair-raising, nerve-shattering, keep-you-up-at-night poems. They will change you. You’ll want to believe they’re just poems, but in the end you’ll know they’re much more than that.

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