A debut poetry collection documents what comes after trauma.
Life, in a sense, is lived in the aftermath. The pivotal incident (or events) varies, but anyone who has lived for a while can mark the spot that divides before from after. Whittaker examines the after in this volume, with poems like “After the Funeral,” “In the Afterlife,” “After the Emergency,” and “In the Afterlight.” The poem “Identification,” which begins “After being attacked,” laments an ended love even as it examines its gruesome remainders: “I don’t / want to forget what we were / when it’s time for matters / of the brain studied on a tray, / or seen from dental decay / or like a four-handed duet folded / into an embalming fluid.” There are images of childhood trauma, as in this one from “A Mirror of a Mirror,” which is representative of the poet’s musical ear and playful use of white space: “I used to take red crayon / and scribble on homemade nail polish / and my would find out / and take that raw sienna belt / that whip, whip, whip / spoke with a witty rip / and by nightfall my hands / blossomed into numb and dumb.” Sparse and lyrical, these poems blur the lines between memory, dream, and the present, as in “Five Transient Moments,” which includes three visions of the seashore followed by a description of dehydration and then this startling scene: “During the dream: / A streetlight flickers. / Four men pass me. / They are English, bloody tired. / In an alley, / children stone each other / killing time. / I need to tell you / that I miscarried. / I can’t find your street.” In this thematically cohesive collection, Whittaker does not offer much for readers who are seeking a narrative. But the lines are good enough and the visions haunting enough that they will pull the audience deep into their fugue. Replete with the imagery of coasts and vanished loves, the pieces feel fragmentary and half-whispered, as though the poet knows they will inevitably be washed away in the next storm surge.
Stark, effective, and often enigmatic poems of betrayals and laments.