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Wednesday Shout Out
Believe it or not, it’s a coincidence that this particular book cover made my Shout Out feature on Halloween. This is cult poet Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s fifth volume of poems. Though she was on faculty at Arizona State University while I was attending their MFA program, regretfully I never studied with her, but I read everything she publishes because she’s brilliant, she’s bitchin’, she’s Beckian.
Washed in the River
Of course the woman with the mouse-child was famous,
as grace is famous,
at the end of suffering. She kept him in
a nest in the dry bathtub
and washed in the river.
And though only children were meant
to believe this, I still believe this.
The fate of the body
is to confound
itself with everything. That’s why
in another tale, the fair sister
opened her mouth and spoke
and the plain sister, vipers and toads.
Meanwhile, the mother
of the gray thing
bathed him in a teacup.
Plucked him out and let him
run along the shore
to the window. Where both of them
were struck in longing—
he behind the great glass,
she behind the gray boy.
The second you see yourself in the suffering
the story’s over.
The startling echoes of the Brothers Grimm resound throughout this poem because their fanciful and frightening stories are closer to our reality than we care to admit. In this case, the myth of the mouse-child—a child with a developmental difference that makes of him an outcast from the society of the “normal”—is imprisoned by his mother’s shame or fear or ignorance, and in turn that state of distress becomes her prison.
There’s an unfairness to the facile classifications of beauty. Why must the fair sister get to speak in pleasantries? Why must the plain one be scary? These dichotomies, which we have learned from youth, condition our associative thinking: pretty is good, ugly is bad; white is positive, dark is negative.
And so that ambiguous couplet in the end: Does empathy lead to action? Or does identification lead to denial? Does one cleanse the wounds of the wounded? Or does one wash their hands of the matter?
Fritz Goldberg’s book keeps readers on their toes because these narratives of human freakdom are actually mirrors, once you stare deep into the subject’s eyes and recognize yourself.
(From The Book of Accident, published by the University of Akron Press, 2006. Used with the permission of the author.)