Book Review: My Girl’s Green Jacket
My Girl’s Green Jacket
by Mary Meriam
Headmistress Press, 2018
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
When I read Mary Meriam’s poems in My Girl’s Green Jacket, I am tempted to think, This is someone who lives her life in poetry. This may or may not be true. My evidence would be:
–she writes many poems
–she publishes and edits the poetry of others (at Headmistress Press)
–she knows and writes in many poetic forms
–her content sometimes suggests a life immersed in art, a solitary art, an Emily-Dickinson-ish seeming renunciation of the world (while longing, like Emily, for the comforts and joys of the world so often easily attained by others—touch, compassion, companionship, a romantic partner who would last a lifetime…)
Indeed, in the sad, yearning poem “Deus ex Machina” I heard echoes of Emily Dickinson. Like Emily, the speaker listlessly lists her daily chores. Like Emily, she imagines “wild nights.”
This is my sink, and here I rinse the silver.
This is my kitchen where I cook the food.
I slice the apples, pour the milk and water,
carry the dishes back and forth, and brood
about the dock that I would make for you,
the cove exploding in wild nights for two,
the sweetness of my life in solitude.
In “No More,” I heard my dear Emily again—her tone, her dashes, her lists, her cold, numb wisdom, her curiosity even after all is said and done:
I rise, I brush my hair, and dress me – then
I wonder what I am, and how to be,
and who has made me so. It’s time again
to wash the dishes – then it’s afternoons—
then evenings come, with waxing, waning moons.
When I got to the notes at the end, I learned that “No More” is indeed based on a letter from Emily Dickinson to Susan Gilbert. The poems and notes reveal further engagement and intertextuality with other poets, including Muriel Rukeyser, Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy Parker, and Patrick Donnelly, as well as the It Gets Better project. All of it helps me build my case that Mary Meriam is a poet’s poet, and someone who has dedicated her life to her art! As does this couplet from “Herself”:
The only place to go: inside herself.
Oh, but she didn’t want to hide herself.
That said, this is the same poet who wrote Girlie Calendar, so it’s not all renunciation for Mary Meriam!
This book’s title, My Girl’s Green Jacket, appears as a phrase in the poem “The Earth,” one of Meriam’s glorious ghazals, this one beginning, stunningly, “I grabbed my witch’s broom too late to sweep the earth / under the rug.” So much happens at that line break. First, we have the implied witch, scary. But she’s just cleaning! But it’s huge, her broom, and, yes, the earth needs a good cleaning! And then that line break, and we learn that she (who is she?) might want to sweep the earth under the rug, as if it is dust that needs to be hidden. And it’s too late. The earth, beautiful and ruined, has already been seen, reaped, exploited, polluted. In a way, “The Earth” is a battle cry in the war to save the planet:
To battlements, I cry. Or just begin to cry.
Where is my girl’s green jacket? She will keep the earth.
The speaker of the poem is a woman of great power, and of no power, not without her “true army.” We could join her and be that—
When my true army carries wounded home, I’ll soothe
and heal the crippled seas, the silver deep, the earth.
—if her “true army” includes humans at all… The earth, with the help of Mother Nature, can heal herself without us.
Goodness, there is so much to love in My Girl’s Green Jacket. There is a sonnet crown in “States,” an array of the states she has lived in. There are stellar lines such as these from the poem “Map”—
We are made of exploded stars
My pointed limbs tremble silver for you
—a poem that locates the speaker and gives directions to her, and yet:
The gates stay locked
Nothing normal has ever happened to me
These closing lines restore the Emily Dickinson connection. And ache in space.
There are rhymes and riddles, gorgeous images, urgent and yet quiet wisdom. This is a book to keep you warm—or very hot, with its wild nights and evident climate change—on a cold winter’s night, waiting for spring.
Cover art by Florine Stettheimer. Costume design (“Georgette”) for artist’s ballet Orphée of the Quat-z-arts.