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Paolo & Francesca
- Published on Amazon.com
Mother Love is a highly original collection of poetry that uses the myth of Demeter and Persephone to portray the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship and the human relationship with hell. While the allusion is clear, the poems are never literal. We always feel that the women in the poems are contemporary, that the ancient Greek myth is enacted everywhere, throughout the ages. The setting of the poems range from America, France, Mexico, and Greece, to Mexico, yet we are always brought back to the central tension of innocence vs. experience.
What is most fascinating to me about this collection is its ambivalent take on hell. The underworld is not so much another world as it is our world, the world we enter every day and watch our children enter. Flowers are the central metaphor here, and they are both the flowers of innocence and the flowers of experience. The world of innocence is one of constant menace: Persephone, who wanders in a field of flowers is suddenly snatched underground. The world of beauty is a prelude to a world of darkness, one cannot enter one without going into the other.
The world of hell is not a polarized one either. In "Persephone in Hell," the daughter, new in "the stone chasms of the City of Lights," (Paris) is curious about all that the city has to offer. She is delighted by the "croissants glazed in the sheen of desire," "nipples gleaming on innocent beignets," and the boys, "their pale eyelids, foreheads thrown back so rapture could evaporate." She says, "I was curious, mainly: how would each one smell, how many ways could he do it? I was drowning in flowers." The flowers in this poem are the flowers of hell, the bloody blooms of desire that begin to awaken in the young woman. In "Bistro Styx," the mother questions whether the daughter is happy with her new life. But as the young woman tastes all the exotic new fruits, she has no desire to return. Even though the daughter never acknowledges love as the reason she stays underground, she chooses to go back because her entrance into adulthood means that she can never return.
It becomes evident that hell is the grief the mother enters as she loses her daughter. Yet here there is evidence that suffering brings about transformation, even transcendence. In "The Narcissus Flower," the speaker says, "the mystery is, you can eat fear before fear eats you, you can live beyond dying--and become a queen whom nothing surprises." In "Exit," the poem begins, "just when hope withers, a reprieve is granted." In "Her Island," a human need to make a sport of death emerges "through sunlight, into flowers." The last poem offers no solutions to the drama of suffering and offers simply the words, "no story's ever finished; it just goes on, unnoticed in the dark that's all around us: blazed stones, the ground closed."
There is never a resolution to suffering. It is everywhere and we live with it. The opening poem offers a clue to the mystery of life and death--"O why did you pick that idiot flower? Because it was the last one and you knew it was going to die." Yes, we lose our innocence. Yes, we suffer and grieve. But we chose it because we want to live in the world, and not some sterilized version of it. The only alternative is death. To remain in innocence would be our death. And to chose suffering is to chose wisdom and life.