Escape Into Neverland
Darling Hands, Darling Tongue
by Sally Rosen Kindred
Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk
EIL Poetry Editor
Cover art by Nashay Jones
I’ve recently learned two words, from other languages, similar to “nostalgia”—the Welsh “hiraeth” and the Portuguese “saudade”—that also describe feelings I get reading Peter Pan, seeing the movie, Finding Neverland, or reading the poems in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue, by Sally Rosen Kindred, a chapbook that revisits Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and the Lost Boys of Neverland.
Though not perhaps fully translatable, “hiraeth” is a longing or nostalgia for a place to which you cannot return, a homesickness for a home that may not even exist. It’s what I hear in Wendy’s voice as she tells a bedtime story to her brother Michael in Kindred’s poem, “What Wendy Darling Tells Her Brother”:
Don’t you remember
living behind bricks,
dry paper asters flowering to the wall
and curtains rough and broad
drifting past the glass that held us?
We can, of course, picture the house, the wallpaper, the large open window, and the children flying out of it on fairy dust. Later in the poem, Kindred’s Wendy makes the feeling almost explicit:
And though it wasn’t real
it was home. And though it was in time
it was ours, the mother and father
who draped the air, their bodies strange
and soft with yearning.
Kindred is capturing J.M. Barrie’s own ambivalence about home and mother and loss, in the epigraphs she uses for several of these poems. For this one, she quotes Wendy saying, “’There was once a gentleman [whose] name…was Mr. Darling, and her name was Mrs. Darling.’”
“’I think I knew them,’ said Michael rather doubtfully.” That just breaks my heart, how Michael only vaguely remembers “the mother and father” and does not quite understand them as his own.
In the very next poem, “To Mothers Reading Peter Pan,” Kindred includes the companion ambivalence of the parents themselves, the Darlings, in her epigraph from Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy.
“They were rather sweet, don’t you think, George?”
“And they were ours, ours, and now they are gone.”
These parents seem nostalgic at the loss of their “rather sweet” children but remarkably able to let them go! Only now, upon realizing their loss, will the saudade settle in, perhaps. “Saudade” is the melancholic longing or nostalgia for an absent someone or something, “the love that remains” after someone is gone.
Kindred does not spare us the melancholic longing nor the awful truth. In “Becoming Peter Pan,” she opens, again, with an epigraph, this one Peter’s claim that he ran away so he wouldn’t have to grow up, but then she delivers her own stark claim: “Truth is, he’d wanted to stay.” She gives, as evidence, lamplighters and gardens, things he loved in London, and then the gut punch:
Truth is, in the land where he had a mother
he’d been alive
but one morning
his mother couldn’t wake him.
That terrible absence in the center of the poem is the fact of death. It is the self-knowledge that cannot be escaped, even in elaborate fantasies. It is the grown-up longing in “Wendy Darling Has Bad Dreams” and the “bone dry” barrenness of truth:
Peter once said I made that world. I lie
with it: guilt simmers my dreams, its ocean
seeps out in pain along my arms
when I wake forgetting
I’m home, forgetting why rain
is coming down outside
but my body’s by a man’s, and bone dry.
There are many sad, dark truths, spun with beauty, in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. For example, Tinker Bell dies. And the coroner—“just the boy Pete / gave the white coat”—confesses he doesn’t know why.
This morning we woke
to find her petal-pressed to the wall,
a lit map, a coral-and-wine
bright shrine of a stain.
She’s beautiful, but what did it? Maybe she tries to tell us in “What Tinker Bell Tells the Last Boy.” But in “Notes from a Fairy Autopsy,” that poor pretend coroner is left with hiraeth, with saudade:
I miss my mother. She’d know why
I’m standing over a tray
of crushed wings, numberless sunset bones.
I miss her
and her warm, dry skin.
It’s a poignant book, full of bright images and mixed feelings. Tinker Bell wants out:
Kiss me kettle-hard: yank
my sorry ass from Never.
Tiger Lily does get out of Neverland, in “Tiger Lily Leaves the Book for Now”–though, based on the poem’s title, only temporarily. But we, the readers, get to revisit Neverland on our own timetable, or lack of one, wondering about the need to escape, wondering why we keep going back, wondering how to put our own in-between feelings into words, and glad to find the darling ones at hand!
Sally Rosen Kindred at Escape Into Life (with 3 poems from the book)