Child in the Road by Cindy Savett
(Parlor Press, Indiana, 2007)
“The form-giving work of poetry,” writes Susan Stewart in Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, “is to counter the oblivion of darkness.” That poetry can somehow bring both reader and poet up from the depths underlies the poems in Cindy Savett’s first book, Child in the Road. The collection of poems can be read as one extended work in which the author at turns mourns, prays, and rages in response to the sudden death of her eight-year-old daughter.
Savett has not couched her emotions, however, as she moves through the landscape of death. The reader is not sheltered from the darkness via poetic markers such as meter, sound, lyric form or even punctuation. These poems drag you into the writer’s dark places. You’re pulled on the journey as the poet scours the world trying to make sense of what cannot ultimately be understood. Like Demeter, who wandered and searched, who shape shifted and wrecked havoc as she tried to find her lost daughter Persephone, the mother in these poems is unflinching in her seeking. Listen to her plea and see if you have the courage to accompany her.
smash faith against the wind
and crawl deep into corners
of carcass craving
mess of wings
in the pit
stuffed with dark
cluttering the lab
The book is divided into 10 sections, but comforting way stations like titles for the poems don’t exist. It’s hard to distinguish between individual poems, except for the insertion of graphic lines. This is part of the author’s determination, I think, to render grief from its molten center. But titles of the section do indicate the route the poet’s journey will take—from the first (alibis) to the center (you and the blue name Rachel) to the final sections (in the temporary mist of prayer and is your question.) There is an I but no other sense of family or friend offering solace. The primary figure is this I, moving through ruin and debilitation, chanting, speaking, calling, trying to use language to bring back the dead, as Savett writes at the end of a beautiful brief section, you, “come darling/spread your vowels against the wind/ a restored feast.”
So how does Child in the Road counter the oblivion of the darkness of a daughter’s death? There is no solace in this book. It is not filled with poems containing wise words on the stages of grief or well-crafted lines about closure. These are rough, scarred poems that carry you into the nightmare on the poet’s back. Pick up this book and you’ll breathe in the primal dread of oblivion. But Savett’s work to counter the darkness is as mapmaker. She will guide you through a time when “light is just despair” to a potentially safer place where “whitewashed bones forgiven in this light.” And this is a kind of absolution, which is testimony to the incantatory power of poetry.
Pamela Hart, a former journalist, is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she works as a teaching artist. Her chapbook, The End of the Body, was published in 2006. Her work, which has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has been published in qarrtsiluni, BigCityLit.com, Rattapallax and Kalliope and is forthcoming in The Cortland Review. Read her blog, A Walk Around the Lake, at pamelahart.blogspot.com