Moving, psychologically nuanced free verse on death, rebirth and the powerfully generative potential of loss.
Billone’s debut poetry collection opens with the distinctly violent thud of metal on flesh: “I was raped by a speeding train. I asked it to. / I threw myself before it….Oh what enormous / metal thighs. Oh what fast thudding hips. Again / again against my blackening eyes, skull, chest, waist.” The rattle of crushing bones reverberates through this volume as Billone revisits again and again this vivid moment of loss, of clarity and of new beginnings. For all the isolation this act of surrender implies, Billone’s narrator seems as concerned about the repercussions for her father as for herself. Recently emerged from a coma, she peers from the buzzing confines of her damaged skull and notices his small discomforts: “Now almost dead I wake to feel him stroke / my hand with his weary feet in buckets / full of ice.” Though headed by epigraphs drawn from Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Barrett Browning—their influences here are undeniable—this volume’s insistent attention to self-violence, suffused with a complex longing for, and yet wariness of, paternal blessing begs for comparison to Sylvia Plath, a comparison in which Billone more than holds her own. Poems such as “Invitation from a Carnival after a Storm,” “Paris to London” and “If Nothing Else” demonstrate her ability to convey a rich, fraught sensuality with sharply lucid verse. Like Plath, she evokes a father both omnipotent—one who can tear down her “tiny words” with “bare / gigantic / father arms / overwhelming”—and omnipresent, a hovering, suffocating presence whose “terrified eyes” and “gasping face” may have been prescient or may have pushed the narrator to attempt suicide. Unlike Plath, however, she learns—from her father’s fears, from that thudding train and from her late mentor, the poet Jack Gilbert—to savor the profound intensity of approaching loss. As her attention moves from her own recovery to the birth of her son, she cherishes each exquisite moment preceding the loss of their shared bodies: “My God, I have never loved / anything as much as these / ripples inside me.” Indeed, in this tightly woven exploration of how to hold onto something important amid constant change and loss, the “gray light changes / will change // is changing now / as it always does.”
Thrilling in its courageousness, breathtaking in its vividness.