Sunday, April 12, 2015

Widow Poems - Betty Adcock (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Widow Poems.  Betty Adcock.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2014.

Eleven poems.  That's all it takes for Betty Adcock to thoroughly convince everyone at Today's book of poetry.  Widow Poems is exactly as advertised, our narrator has been widowed and these poems are elegy, memoir, prayer.

These poems will make you weep.  No way around it.

Big, hard, up from the heart with a punch in the throat tears.

Most married women eventually become a widow - so what is the big deal?  The deal is that Adcock opens up, instantly, in a way that makes her a familiar.  We've known this woman all our lives and are invested in what she has to say.

The Widow's House

seems to be coming apart -- pieces
of wall, snatches of a rug, chair-rungs,
shingles, plumbing, lamps and doorknobs.
Glass shatters from rows of still-framed
faces. The mirrors are dusking over,
no longer disclosing.

                              Everything floats
as if gravity has left the place. It's not
violent; it is a loosening, a soundless
disengagement. Even her body has become
otherwise, flesh that can no longer
recognize itself.

Perhaps it is she who has gone to ash,
gone to ground and the dark.
She has asked so hard for him,
crying out in the night, weeping into
pots on the stove, roses in the yard.

Perhaps she is the ghost
in the house they built dissolving,
turning now as if in the grip of a slowed
tornado, air full of what could be
confetti in some kind of decelerating
celebration: music, books, conversations
shredding in the wind that memory
always becomes -- unfastened, recasting,
disheveling as the end of lovemaking.
She sits on a splintered floor
surrounded by the done-for.


Betty Adcock remembers everything -- yet without haste, without ever rushing, she distills it all down for us.  How she knows the man she loved, how it is all still real and present.

Knowing all this never hinders Adcock or Widow Poems.  Adcock is totally in the now.  She knows a few tricks and one of them is to be alive in the past and the present.

Widow Poems is sublimely tender.

Lunar: a History

In Palomas the moon was Mexican silver awash
on the dirt street where we danced to mariachi
that rang and shimmered like hammered tin.

Months later on a Dallas sidewalk, an August moon
burned 93 degrees at midnight -- imagine -- you had come
all that way for this fire.

Outside Abilene, we said the September moon
was neon, an Orange Crush sign stopped mid-flash,
that much-too-sweet, that awful bright.

The next June, was East Texas and our wedding sky
bearing an opal cresset sure to carry us
out of one darkness into what else there was.

We were straight to Manhattan's summer moons, lost and lovely
above the concrete canyons. We made our daughter under shadows
broken blue as a jazz flute's riff across the marvelous city.

Years later we found the Roman moon a weathered coin,
the Florentine, gold-leaf -- and Dublin's nightshining
was held in the Liffey's argentine.

Pete's Creek Canyon in Montana held a day-moon
ghosting the sunlit moon -- a crescent of smoke --
and just then sudden hail pocked the clearing with white stones.

Remember how Greek moonlight jeweled the whole
island with donkey song, poppies, whitewashed Easter
churches? That island made some change in us we carried...

                    --just here the words fall, fail, can't stay
                    as you couldn't stay for this poem's still
                    unfinished end.
                                             You died instead.

                    Yet something has to take the place of white space
                         so like the blank my life's impossibly become, all fifty-four
                    of our years together gone -- for who now can remember
                         them with me? Your last hour was almost midnight,
                    your last breath shallow on the hand I held to you
                         as I breathed out "I've loved you my whole life,"
                    a thing so true and strange I wasn't sure
                        I'd heard my own voice say it.

That night you died, the moon on our backyard was a brightness
close to daylight --

                    and not that cool white brilliance
a full circle casts. No. This was golden clarity
dropped by a half-moon, some new kind
of broken wafer overhead.

                                            Later I would read that planets
were in rare alignment, on just that date,
like obedient marchers placing a new complexion
on the night.

                      Coming home then from your death,
I was given the red fox wearing its own unearthly glow
under strange moonlight that gave back, like memory,
the morning that became it, the stranger morning
that would come.


Being married isn't everything -- but it sure is something.  Betty Adcocks gives sweet homage to the man she shared life with, explores what it means to continue without him, even to find joy in that new life without.  It is too easy to call these poems brave.

It is impossible to understand an other's grief but Adcock lessens those odds.  There is no banshee wail, no Puddles Pity Party clown in these poems.  Adcock is adroit with every task, she is never maudlin.  We miss her husband too.


                      Yet here was the thing in the midst of the bones,
                      the wide-eyed innocent fox inviting me to play...
                      The universe was swinging around in some fantastic
                      fashion to present its face, and the face was so small
                      the universe itself was laughing.
                                                                - Loren Eiseley
                                                                The Unexpected Universe

My love, I would set you again on that trail you loved
to run, your hair still long from another era,
your heart beat, your mind all music --
Getz, Parker, Bach, Gillespie,
Debussy, Stravinsky, Coltrane -- your own
improvisations running alongside
racing, shaping what your fingers
would play into the wind.

I remember April I remember you

                               I remember
how you lay curled in pain, your spine
collapsing like a column of smoke,
                               your hands
knotted with arthritis that took the flute
out of your grasp, but not the spirit of it, and not
the love you had for me, which depth
I've realized late, able to see it only in the daily dark
that is your absence -- disappearance so immense
there's no measure, no image for it --
how the meaning of life is life, and the meaning
of death is life, no delusion of heaven intervening
in that tight-woven tapestry, no uplifting

         Only the fox came
on the night you died, strange
angel the color of gold fire,
                       trickster lifted
whole from a child's picture book,
lifting its delicate feet in the winespill
of that held the whole backyard
hostage to clarity. The planets
in rare, perfect alignment altered
this one night with light uncanny
as the fox that danced straight toward me.
With eyes full of that moon, he danced almost
close enough to touch, danced as if
to music, as if the animal would speak
in that language some single thing
not available elsewhere.
                        Beauty perhaps,
which may be holy and once only
and all we have.


Here at Today's book of poetry we are going to call Betty Adcock -- Lady Betty.

We loved these poems.

And we forgot to tell you that Lady Betty knows jazz better than you do.  These poems have genuine be-bop moments.  See that cardinal, a bird in flame.

Betty Adcock is a recent inductee to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Betty Adcock

Betty Adcock, a recent inductee into the NC Literary Hall of Fame, grew up in rural east Texas and has lived all her writing life in North Carolina. Her most recent book is Widow Poems, from Jacar Press. LSU press has published six collections of her poetry, including Intervale: New and Selected Poems (2002) which won the Poets’ Prize and was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Slantwise, chosen by LSU Press as the Leslie Phillabaum Award Volume for 2008. Honors include The North Carolina Award for Literature, the Texas Institute of Letters prize,The Hanes Award from the Southern Fellowship of Writers, fellowships in poetry from the State of North Carolina and the National Endowment for the Arts. She held a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2002-2003. Ms. Adcock was Kenan Writer in Residence at Meredith College for twenty years. She has been visiting professor at Duke University, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and North Carolina State University. For ten years she was a faculty member in the low-residency Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. She has long been a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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