Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Review of Linda Ferguson's "Bird Missing from One Shoulder" (Wild Goose, Summer 2008)

Bird Missing from One Shoulder, by Linda Annas Ferguson, WordTech Editions 2007
A photo of the author’s mother adorns the front cover of Linda Annas Ferguson’s wonderful collection of poetry Bird Missing from One Shoulder. In a sort of poetic full circle, that image is clearly repeated on the back cover in the photo of Ferguson herself. Given the continuity of these two images, it should come as little surprise that the poems are, in part, dedicated to Virgie Nelson Annas, and that it is the spirit of an often underappreciated but strong woman, a self-sacrificing and persisting force of family that runs throughout the body of the work.
Through these poems the reader comes to appreciate the personal sacrifices made by the speaker’s mother as she “rises at five” (“Making Biscuits”), “hides money for a child’s needs” (Mama’s Closet”), hangs “wash outside on the line” (“Choices”) and “kneads with such ease it barely touches the heart of the palm” (“Making Biscuits”), all the while staying “at home / waiting for her own life” (“Lying in State”), listening “with her eyes shut,” (“Mama’s Apron”) and believing “she wasn’t anyone” (“Anonymous”). Even in the poems that focus on the speaker’s father it is the mother who leaves burning “a seashell lamp from a beach / we’ve never seen” (“Living Room”).
Do not think, however, that the poems can be reduced to a mere elegy for the speaker’s mother, for they are also the story of a girl growing up in a place that will be familiar to most readers from the small town South of the 20th century (and deserves to be familiar to those from elsewhere), a place of “fragments . . . parasites . . . bones thrown about” (“Cotton Mill Hill”), a place where “all streets lead to the cotton mill” (“Living Room”), “funerals cost too much to die” (“Graveyard Shift”) and “life comes in pieces” (“Almost Fourteen”). The greatest part of that growing up in this volume is the process of learning to accept grief maturely and of coming to understand the “austere and lonely offices,” as Robert Hayden calls them, of parenting and forgive the shortcomings accepting those offices often result in.
Ultimately, Bird Missing from One Shoulder does what most poetry aspires to do, to save what might otherwise be lost, the world not simply as it happens but as it is felt. The poems literally enact the final lines of “Mama’s Closet” where the speaker’s mother is seen “saving the girl she wants/ to remember, every small portion of paper / a folded page of herself.”

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