Anchor by Rebecca Aronson
Rebecca Aronson’s third book of poetry, Anchor, is a gorgeous collection of ruminative observations born of her experiences with the final illnesses of her parents. Reflecting on her father’s loss of balance and her mother’s loss of memory, Aronson’s poems contemplate the inexorable pull of gravity that destabilizes her father physically, and the unbearable lightness of memory that unmoors her mother from her own history.
While themes of love, grief and yearning appear throughout her poetry, the scaffolding of the collection is primarily built through letters to Gravity as a character—a figure at once too present and too absent. As she writes her missives to Gravity, grief is revealed as a process of questioning and understanding. But Aronson’s Gravity is cruel and capricious—a jealous lover, a playground bully—too quick to bring her father to the ground but refusing to anchor her mother’s mind:
You yearn for his attention, pull with such insistence
he begins to split, beloved toy you have adored to pieces.
(“Dear Gravity,” 4)
While Gravity’s causes may be knowable, we remain achingly powerless over its effects.
Other poems in the collection, in language alternately lush and spare, speak to Aronson’s shifting roles as parent and child, and her own dual longings for connection and invisibility—whether revealed in the transformative qualities of a favorite dress (“The Dress I Loved”) or in her admiration for the shapeshifting talents of the cuttlefish in the surprisingly poignant “Ode”:
There is dagger and tumble, how you scuttle
and obfuscate, ink cloud
another darkness mimicking your shape. How I
changed my colors in an eye-blink,
a mid-conversation conversion. (36)
Her awareness of the tensions of corporality and ethereality in her own skin is likewise powerfully expressed:
I never wished to be a butterfly, exactly,
Though something winged and barely-bodied might suit me,
suit how I am always floating loose from the weight and heartfeel
of my earthbound and bleeding form…
(“Prayer Written on a Wide Veranda on a Comfortable Couch in Sewanee, TN,” 37)
Aronson’s poetic exploration of the tensions between body and spirit, weight and lightness, resurface again and again in this marvelous work. Her lyrical and clear-eyed contemplation of life, love, grief, and balance is weightless and vulnerable as birds’ bones, vital and immediate as a breast lump, and often requires a reader’s re-grounding after a particularly powerful or tender line.
This is a remarkable collection.