I'm very happy to present a brilliant poem to you by Pris Campbell, an accomplished poet with a long list of published poems. Her poem, "Undertow," is a great example of controlled use of energy in the form of sadness and identification, which the reader takes in and tries to accomodate all through the poem. It leaves you with an easy feeling. It delivers!
I expected my father's death
to draw the sea to my feet,
the water threatening to bear me
away with it--not mother's.
Our voices were constant coils
of disagreement; my hair was too long.
I was too thin. My clothes were too tight.
My mish-mash of dishes would never do
if the relatives came down for Christmas.
I lived 'in sin' with a man, traveled with him,
tossed away my bra to her mortification.
After my knees buckled
and this illness pinned me to my bed of thorns,
the core of metal between us softened,
became a pillow to rest our heads upon, but
she slipped quietly into that undertow
and I was left alone on the beach, a girl again,
This powerful and compact poem builds on
layers of dysphoria which the narrator recalls
from early maternal influences up to the present.
Interestingly, the poem opens with a reference to
the speaker's father, whose death was anticipated
to take a much larger toll (at least when compared to
grief experienced through her mother). We find a
metaphor of the sea, which in this case, 'threatens
to bear me away with it." A sense of instability and
loosened underpinnings, early on, is evinced, that
appears to be superseded by her mother's constant
jabbing and attacks on self esteem ("my hair was
too long, I was too thin, my clothes were too tight").
But we're not looking at generation gap here, or the
dystopic imaginations of an adult making hyperbole
of what otherwise might be considered adolescent
bewilderment. What really hurts, and where the
poem turns on both tone and importance, is here:
"After my knees buckled and this illness pinned me
to my bed of thorns, the core of metal between us
softened:" a serious physical problem, as well as
obvious deep emotional injury (the two are
all too often inextricably related). Interestingly,
this malady somehow brought an apparent softening
in the Mother-daughter relationship, that was
tragically, short-lived. Thus, the force in the poem
is set up and springs as the narrator returns to the
sea metaphor and its ever-present pull, expressed
as 'that undertow." The language here puts the
effects in the dynamic range. This is not something
that just happened, but a process over many, many
years. And it hearkens back to earliest memories,
with her father, and now operating to pull her mother
back under. It's not hard to imagine, though never
stated, the tacit idea that the daughter has to deal
with these same negative forces. The striking
reversion, in the closing line, to a childhood day
at the beach conjures up images of a real drowning
and hammers home the heat of the poem in blazing,
enervating sadness. This poem brings one startingly
close to the edge of shared experience and allows
for just the proper amount of detachment (in tone)
to enter into the narrator's strife, but not be overcome
by its negative pull.
Pris Campbell, A Brief Bio
Among other journals and anthologies, Pris Campbell's poetry has appeared in Poems Niederngasse, Boxcar Poetry Review, MiPo (digital/print/radio/OCHO), Thunder Sandwich, The Dead Mule, Empowerment4Women, In The Fray, The Cliffs: Soundings, and The Wild Goose Review. She's been featured poet in a number of journals and appeared on PoetryVlog, a site for video poems run by George Wallace. She has two chapbooks: Abrasions and Interchangeable Goddesses (Rank Stranger Press and Rose of Sharon/3 Virgins Imprint). A third chapbook, Hesitant Commitments, will be part of Lummox Press' Little Red Book series. A former Clinical Psychologist, she's now sidelined by CFIDS. She lives in the greater West Palm Beach, FL , with her husband. More of her poetry can be found at her website poeticinspire and her MySpace blog