Within its first few lines, this slim collection plunges you deep into a family home populated by people so real you can visualise them. The poems that follow explore feelings of loss, nostalgia and, in some cases, regret. These are odes to family members long gone, and to the echoes of childhoods when an aunt’s chicken broth and noodles served in “bowls rimmed with fading flowers” summons up the smells and sounds of a home the lives only in nostalgia now.
There’s an intimate feel to the whole, akin to overhearing family legends, with countless lines that could be preceded with “Do you remember…?”
A simple storytelling feel gives Patricia Averbach’s poems an unshowy strength – every sentence is thoughtfully placed, with no attempts to dazzle with trickery. And, I think, that’s just how it should be.
Advice passed down glimmers through the pages, homilies you would be wise to heed, from “The great chefs leave the kitchen clean” in Grandma’s Ghost, to a chilling warning about a family pet in Good Girl.
The tales edge out from the family home to take in glimpses of a perilous world where elk “should have tip-toed/ off in their stone shoes, kept their heads down”, and a woman navigates through the clouds of macular degeneration. Frailties and dangers rear up throughout, reminding us that every individual has their bleaker memories; hospital beds to horde around, travesties to try and survive, and that in every family there’s someone who leaves the party early, to live on in reminiscence as “a pretty and permissive god/ Permissive as long as we only do/ what she permits.”
In one of my favourites, My Father’s Dream, Averbach branches out further, evoking an unsettling vision rich with meaning and putting surrealism to excellent use.
Here and there, words sit in verses that would be stronger without them, but the sentiments that ring through the collection are clear and sound, and worth lingering over, before you go home and call the closest available parent, aunt, uncle or sibling.
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