R E V I E W B Y A M Y S T R A U S S F R I E D M A N
Amy Strauss Friedman is the author of the chapbook Gathered Bones are Known to Wander (Red Bird, 2016). She is a regular contributor to the newspaper Newcity and a staff writer at Yellow Chair Review. Her poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews appear in numerous literary journals. She was born and raised in Chicago, where she taught English at Harper College and at Northwestern's Center for Talent Development; she's recently moved to Denver. Amy earned her MA in Comparative Literature from Northwestern University.
H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
Evergreen trees keep their leaves year round and maintain their color in the dead of winter. This because they grow in climates where resources are sparse; they don’t have the luxury of seasonal reinvention. These strenuous circumstances force them to develop a protective coating over their leaves, much like the one Sarah Frances Moran longs for in her new book of poetry, Evergreen. In this collection, Moran details in haunting, lyrical language the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather, and eloquently captures its searing aftermath. “The woman I wanted to be died somewhere/inside the girl you found you couldn’t keep your/hands outside of” Moran writes in “Always Blue,” alluding to the internal tectonic shift inside her psyche that such violation invariably causes.
Abuse commonly disrupts the natural order; it disturbs the path to self-reliance; it blurs the map out of the forest of adolescence and into the clarity of adulthood. Moran’s poetry skillfully testifies to this turmoil, and to the fear of not being able to break away from it. She speaks of the holding pattern in which her abuse places her: “I am waiting, to stop waiting/on healing./Hoping that if a hero shows up to hold out a hand/she’ll find more than a skeleton” she writes in her collection’s opening poem “Sloughing.” The author agonizes over her trauma, and also over what might remain of herself if she can find a way out of it. Moran struggles for self-definition, as her work makes clear that though she does not know herself outside of the abuse, she cannot remain in its clutches, either.
To contend with this wound, Moran pens for her readers a map of the entangled forest of her life, charting a path both treacherous and hopeful. Knotted roots and beautiful foliage abound, results of the rich heritage she celebrates and the brutal childhood from which she cannot completely escape. Her poems indicate that these roots go back generations and that abuse does not happen in a vacuum. For Moran is not the only woman in her family who’s been forced to navigate the backwoods of trauma. In “Mama Makowski,” the author says that she and her mother share “…An understanding/of broken childhoods and even further broken men…” suggesting her mother was a victim of one type of abuse or another. This makes Moran’s own experience even more complicated; her mother unwittingly brought her abuser into their home, and yet her mother seemed to know no other way.
As Evergreen unfolds, Moran reveals that her mother did not believe her when she revealed her abuse, making the author’s pain even more challenging to contextualize. For Moran clearly loves her mother, yet can’t reconcile her mother’s abrogation of parental duties in the face of the crimes perpetrated against her daughter. “When you didn’t believe me I wondered what the burning was” Moran tells us in “Search And Rescue,” contemplating the overwhelming task of healing in the shadow of her mother’s doubt. And Moran’s feelings of betrayal are palpable: “So my crawl through forgiveness began in the trenches of your denial” she writes. “The way you held onto a love that harbored the trash of my invasion.//How your love for him became the hands that were, crushing my throat./How your love for him became the hands that were, leading my occupation./How your love for him became the words that were, broadcasting my destruction.//How your stand-by-him became the eruption in my flailing fault lines.” How does one disentangle the need for a mother from the knowledge that her mother was not willing to stand up for her daughter following her abuse? This added layer of pain makes getting to the core of the love they share all the more fraught.
Through it all, Moran questions where, how, and in what we are rooted, both individually and collectively, and where our responsibility to abuse victims lies. The author points to the double standard society holds when it comes to abuse: “…I think it’s our inherent societal issue/that we focus on adjusting the thoughts and feelings of girls and women/without focusing on adjusting how boys and men direct their desires” she asserts in “The Difference,” reminding us of the burden placed on victims that ought to rest solely with perpetrators. Both she and her mother were raised in abusive environments, as were their abusers. Moran suggests that a shift in perspective and practice is in order.
The power of Moran’s work lies not in finding her way out of the forest, but in identifying ways to live and to thrive in the woods in which she finds herself. One of the ways she does this is by refusing to let the abuse destroy her: “If you ever dreamed of being a patriarch, you failed” she tells her abuser. “You planted a tree/then doused it in gasoline and attempted to burn it./But these roots are infinite. This is Evergreen.” Moran stands rooted, growing stronger and taller all the time, with leaves year-round. A survivor.
Sarah Frances Moran
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