Kantor (Shadow Sounds, 2010) explores the dreams, dementia, and death of her mother in this memoiristic volume of poetry.
Poetry can be a path to closure, and closure is what Kantor seeks in this collection about her mother, Miriam Gants. From the prologue poem, “I Only Saw the Stars,” Kantor reveals that her father was a louder presence in her childhood than her mother. Addressing Miriam, she writes: “Daddy / was excitement, / fear / and fun. // You / were safe.” Yet Kantor sets out to better understand this quieter parent, gleaning what she can of her mother’s life from old family photographs and memories from her own childhood. One affecting poem, “Irony,” tells of how Miriam finally attempted to assert her individuality after the death of her husband. Then come poems dealing with Miriam’s slide into dementia and the strain it put on the mother and daughter’s increasingly one-sided relationship. Grief-filled poems deal with Miriam’s death and Kantor’s attempts to move forward with an honest, loving memory of her mother. Dancing through the book is an image of Miriam’s ballet shoes; an aspiring dancer from early childhood, Miriam forever damaged her feet by spinning on her toes when she was 5. This didn’t keep her from a lifetime love of the art, which she and Kantor would watch together on TV. Her bittersweet passion became a metaphor for the unrealized dreams of her life, and her shoes are now a treasured (if tragic) heirloom for Kantor to pass on to the next generation. Kantor is a minimalist when it comes to verse: plain language, simple syntax, no distracting conceits. A poem, for her, is often the exploration of a single, pared-down image, with no superfluous information or detail. The narrative forms like a necklace of beads, with the truly inspired images shining like gems. In “Back To Before,” dementia-plagued Miriam feels the textured paint of a museum seascape with her fingers: “There’s no point in telling her / not to touch. // Compelled, // she’s rediscovering / the beginning // at the end.”
An evocative, concentrated rendering of a complex relationship.