Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: If It We

Lisa Zaran
Lummox Press, 2012
75 pp/59 poems

Lisa Zaran’s collection If It We serves largely as a meditation on her son’s addiction to heroin. Perhaps because she dwells on the subject a great deal, Zaran never gives the reader a sunny look at an addict’s life. In “Non Action,” she describes what I imagine any hostile drug to feel like: “Leave no capillary standing. No nerve unharmed. / Find the nothing that is. The no more.” Brutal, all-consuming, and dark.” In this way, she envisions her son’s pain. More heart-rending, though, is how Zaran approaches his physical deterioration. “Scene, You Are” describes the physical characteristics of a heroin addict in a way that sounds familiar to those who have seen such drug-fueled films as Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream--“skinny as a rake, sallow / complexion”--as does “Path of Affection”: “and your lips / are chapped as if / you passed out // during a mid-afternoon / ice storm.” But these verbal pictures hit you with renewed impact because the words are coming from someone who has been forced to watch the decline of this young junkie; the images Zaran has seen end up haunting the reader, as well.

Throughout the course of this collection, we feel Zaran’s desperation, such as when she writes, in “Morning,” that “The sky inside my mind can’t hold much more.” We also learn that she herself is an addict, though a different type than her son: one consumed with the state in which her son lives (or, more accurately, exists), preoccupied with his obsession, unwilling to detach herself from him no matter the emotional cost. This is not a criticism; rather, it is an observer learning second-hand what a mother’s love does to her, unable to look away and tumbling down with parent and child, an unintended third wheel.

In general, Zaran seems to be searching for answers more than she tries to place blame. “Can You Tell Me” lists a few of her questions, including, “Can you tell me, my little frame / of devotion, what white water / has come along, unexpectedly, / and covered you from me?” She also remembers, in “God Bless,” that “my father once said, we’re all damned darling,” which is an unfortunate but accurate response to her inquiries.

In spite of this, Zaran is blessed with glimmers of hope here and there. In “Reason,” the opening poem, she writes of her son, Soon he will outlive the birds, outlive the limbs supporting the birds, outlive me, his mother, a storm-worn dove;” though it is more a statement of fact than a wishful thought, it conveys a sense of how much she loves her son even after the trials she’s suffered at his hands, and a certain amount of faith in his ability to recover.

My personal favorite moment in If It We, however, is the poem “Ointment.” It is a departure from other pieces in the book, because Zaran takes time to focus on herself rather than those around her (particularly her son). It is a wonderful little pep talk, coming at just the right time for the reader--and, I think, the poet: when the heaviness of addiction and self-doubt begins to settle around you.

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