Mayweed by Frannie Lindsay

Jacqueline Kolosov

Mayweed by Frannie Lindsay
by Frannie Lindsay
The Word Works

“Grace,” one of the first poems in the collection, is a poem of praise. Here the speaker praises ‘my plain young mother for leaving/her husband’s bed/…’ ‘the caked galoshes drying beside/the basement door…’ ‘the steadfast ladderback chair…’ ‘the measure [my mother] counted aloud…/her calloused and lovely fingerpads…’ The etymological origins of praise speak to the source of Mayweed. From the Old French preisier ‘to praise, value,’ praise is also associated with the Latin pretiare or price. Lindsay’s ability to praise comes at the price of suffering, in this case the dying and death of a difficult, abusive father; the dying and death of a beloved sister and companion in music.  Structured in three parts, the title poem that precedes Part One, speaks to her poet/subject’s responsibility at this time:

    Rise now from the kneeling
    in front of your east-facing window
    lamenting your sins aloud
    to the slugs in your garden….//

    …No one will ask you
    ever again to recite

    the dark testaments….

The language of religion and especially of ritual is intrinsic to the speaker’s responsibility to both sanctify and memorialize the losses of father and sister while committing herself, absolutely, to living in the present. Take the opening lines of the darkly gorgeous “Encore”:

    On the first summer night of your death
    I fill the kitchen with amateur cello music,

    our Gables Retirement Home recital
    captured on warbly Radio Shack cassette…

The speaker is addressing her sister, and by the end of the poem it is the speaker’s commitment to the present moment—one defined by a musical recording of the past that carries her, for the time being, beyond grief, as the poem’s close attests:

    …the seventeen drowsy oldsters become exultant
    with feathery bravos and so we do it again,

    my sister, we do it again

The absence of a period at the close is absolutely essential, for it is music, whether instrumental or the gestures of the poet, that enables the speaker to create poetry of praise out of a bicycle ride, a flowering plum tree, a black cat, and ultimately out of the complexity of grief. Lindsay’s poems about her father are especially poignant—and ultimately beautiful—precisely because they enact her struggle to find compassion, as the title and opening lines to “Imagining My Father as a Child” suggest:

    Only then could I slide my hands
    along his meager biceps under the shirt
    he’d slept in….

And yet, compassion is only part of the equation. Central to Mayweed’s ethos is the speaker’s shedding of that father, a shedding that requires her relinquishment of the identity of daughter as well, terrifying and liberating at the same time.
  Mayweed is ultimately a collection to make a part of one’s journey through the losses that all of us will inevitably face. If there are lines that will always stay with me, they are the lines that come at the end of “Elegy for My Father,” lines that refuse to seek refuge in complacency, lines that shine because of their difficult grace. “For nothing now,” Lindsay concludes, “is kind or cruel.”

Mayweed is the winner of the 2009 Washington Prize from The Word Work

Jacqueline Kolosov’s second poetry collection is Modigliani’s Muse (TurningPoint, 2009). Her poetry and prose have recently appeared in Orion, The Missouri Review, Under the Sun, and Poetry East. She is on the creative writing faculty at Texas Tech University.

Smartish Pace
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