Friday, April 20, 2018

#Review - How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz #nationalpoetrymonth

My thoughts
As I began reading this collection, I did not expect to be a sobbing mess about midway through until the end. Wow. The poems in this book are about an artist struggling to make her voice heard, but they are also much more. They are about a woman's love for a mother who made her the very person she is. So beautifully written and poignant. For words to evoke such an emotional response is pure genius. I dare anyone to read this collection without ending up with your guts wrenched and a pile of sodden tissues beside them.

The stand outs...the most heartrending, at least to me...

To My Mother Whose Body Is Trying To Kill Her

Have you heard the new Janelle Monae song? It's really good.
If you haven't heard it, it would be dumb to die before you did.
Maybe you'd feel better if you heard it. You haven't visited me
in Texas since my friend Derrick bought his ranch. It's so huge, 
like an 80s late night soap opera set, and his girlfriend is so beautiful, 
and their dog is so neurotic. And it's all worth seeing, at least once.
You haven't seen it at all, Mom. Mom, the man who loves me
told me he wanted to marry me there. It was at a Halloween party, 
and I said, I can't believe you are telling me this while I'm dressed as a zombie!
And he laughed, and I laughed, and Mom, you can sit on that bench!
We can sit on it together. What happens if he is telling the truth, Mom?
Don't you think I need you to be alive for that? Mom, you didn't want
to talk on the phone in the hospital, didn't want people to hear you like
that. And now, you have slipped beyond the ability to talk, strapped 
to machines like a bomb. Mom, are you listening? All you have to do
is stay. Get through this. There is good food waiting for you, and
fresh laughter and books. My books even. I  mean, what is the point
of writing books if you aren't here to read them. I'm serious, Mom, 
please. Stay. Mom. Mom. Please. Stay.

A passage from Dark Luck

Mother, my love, you were a grace that gifted my life. I loved you 
every second, and told you and told you and told you. You were there
when I was born, and I was there when you died, released yourself
from a suddenly irreparable body. We spend mother's day weekend
together. I told you my hopes and you celebrated them. You left
having given me a path, your approval, and all the parts of you
I wear like jewelry every day. I wear your wit, your quick loud laugh,
your round Irish cheeks. I wear your face and voice. When I hear
your voice in my head, you tell me to be bold, to be brilliant,
to be the woman you always saw me as.

But it's so hard, Mom,
so hard to be anything
in this life, in this world
that no longer includes

A passage from Ten Months After of her favorites, a story from my childhood,
and I heard my mother's voice rising from my throat,
the soft velvet of it, the rounded corners of the sentences,

softly pulsing the story forward, while guiding the sleeper 
to sleep. I smiled thinking of her, this tradition all three
of her children now do with our own,

and I thought, I wonder who read to her? Who planted
this seed that is still blossoming? And I realized I'll never know.
My eyes darted to the kid in the bed,

her eyes closed, her breathing slow, as my voice thickened,
tears drifting useless down my face. I miss her. I miss her.
I miss her. I keep reading until the story ends...

A passage from On The First Anniversary of My Mother's Death

...the lights 
shut out, and I am alone. Mom, I say to the rain, I miss you.
I can feel her rolling her eyes in heaven, something she'd do
when she felt something, but knew it would be corny 
to acknowledge it. We were a conspiracy, you and I, Mom.
I miss all the ways you saw me. The way you'd probably laugh
at me, crying in a dark house, so angry at squirrel, but how
you'd circle back, eventually giving me the comfort I wanted.
It was never about the squirrels. I miss crying into the couch
cushions of your laugh. How light you made everything.
How heavy everything is now that you are gone.

(Adding more sodden tissues to the pile)

See what I mean...powerful stuff.

I am very close with my mom. We do pretty much everything together and she really is my best friend. The thing is, we are very much alike and so have our little tiffs, but nothing ever changes between us. The best I can explain it is, we are soulmates. She is my confidante and cheerleader, and I hope I am the same for her.

And so, as mom marches closer to her seventieth birthday, I find myself facing the harsh reality that someday she just won't be here. I'd like to thank the author for reminding me what it means to love someone so much that when they go, they take a piece of you with them. I need to be prepared. I'll never be prepared.

About the Collection
Vulnerable, beautiful and ultimately life-affirming, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work reaches new heights in her revelatory seventh collection of poetry. Continuing in her tradition of engaging autobiographical work, How to Love the Empty Air explores what happens when the impossible becomes real―for better and for worse. Aptowicz’s journey to find happiness and home in her ever-shifting world sees her struggling in cities throughout America. When her luck changes―in love and in life―she can’t help but “tell the sun / tell the fields / tell the huge Texas sky…. / tell myself again and again until I believe it.” However, the upward trajectory of this new life is rocked by the sudden death of the poet’s mother. In the year that follows, Aptowicz battles the silencing power of grief with intimate poems burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, capturing the dance that all newly grieving must do between everyday living and the desire “to elope with this grief, / who is not your enemy, / this grief who maybe now is your best friend. / This grief, who is your husband, / the thing you curl into every night, / falling asleep in its arms…” As in her award-winning The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz counts her losses and her blessings, knowing how despite it all, life “ripples boundless, like electricity, like joy / like... laughter, irresistible and bright, / an impossible thing to contain.”

HOW TO LOVE THE EMPTY AIR brilliantly illuminates why we read poetry, and why poetry is needed. We read it to see another person’s unique experience, but also to help us clarify our own. And we read it to reassure ourselves that what we experience and feel it part of a larger human drama that we all share. Cristin reminds readers how huge, life-shifting events are totally unique and personal—and yet, they are also universal.

About the Poet
Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz is the author of seven books of poetry, including The Year of No Mistakes, crowned the Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers' League of Texas. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller List. Recent awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the ArtsEDGE write-in-residency at the University of Pennsylvania and the Amy Clampitt Residency. When not on the road, she lives in Austin with her husband.


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  1. Though not a big fan of poetry in that I prefer to have it read to me rather than read it myself, this sounds like a wonderfully moving collection.

  2. I absolutely loved this collection. It was fantastic. Thanks for being on the blog tour.

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