Poet Slatkin (A Woman Milking, 2006, etc.) explores the years she spent caring for her elderly mother.
These poems span a four-year period during which Slatkin’s mother, in dwindling mental health, came to live with her. In free verse framed rhythmically by line and break, the poet’s spare voice effectively conjures both mood and setting. Each short poem evokes a very specific, immediate emotional tableau. Slatkin’s writing demonstrates resilience; she’s vulnerable without being weak. Her fraught relationship with her mother is on full display, as Alzheimer’s (“her memories crushed / by vengeful teeth / that grind treasure”) reignites former quarrels and misunderstandings. Some of Slatkin’s imagery can be haunting, such as when her mother’s medication is reduced—“She is a writhing spider, / all legs in pain”—or when her mother’s blue pills dissolve on her tongue unswallowed, running down her chin and leaving a Papuan tattoo. But the poet’s descriptions also display a wonderful tenderness: “[M]y mother’s breasts / emerge, still pink … And after donning / bra and snapping / straps in place, / she gathers them up / like scooping pliant / honey with a spoon.” Depictions of her mother’s hand, “its gnarled back spotted – / but its guileless palm / soft as a persimmon,” showcase an appreciation of frailty. Occasionally, Slatkin is indecisive, which spoils the effect of her lean lines: “with the inevitability / of a waterfall, / or the persistent tide.” Fortunately for readers, these instances are few and far between bouts of the sublime: “her heart-shaped face / held between my palms, / her eyes locked deeply / into mine, care is transmuted / as coal to diamonds.”
A sharp, luminescent examination of a woman in decline.