Poems & Essays

08 Jun

Review of Translucent, Sealed by Megan Merchant

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Review by Jennie Robertson

When I opened the envelope containing Megan Merchant’s chapbook, Translucent, Sealed, I immediately began to look forward to the day when I could slip it into my purse, take it to a café, and really savor reading the beautiful little book. The cover artwork is subdued but lovely and the textured feel of the cover appealing.

When that day finally came, I opened to the first poem “My mother’s mouth was a megaphone of fear.” The poem’s list of far-fetched maternal warnings immediately reminded me of my own mother, who insisted that bad things happen on the beach between 7 pm and 7 am, that any car pulled to the side of the road was probably tending to a private marijuana patch, and so on. It also reminds me of myself, though; it’s closing image–“Carry a stick thick enough to shatter glass” in case you find your car submerged– is similar to a special little hammer I want mounted on my dash. My screeching at the beach last week as my husband and son approached an unstable cliff is still reverberating in my ears. Merchant, I feel sure, is talking about her own mother here, but I see a reflection in her own life, as well, later on when in “Paper Boat” she says:

“I cover every corner
With crash-proof pads,
Put up gates,
Seal the toilet,
And shove far away the day
Such little accidents can’t
Be healed with my kiss.”

The poems taken together show the love behind the fear, and also the difference in how you view the same role as the child vs. as the parent. Merchant’s reminisces about her mother are visited again in “With, without,” with a more adult perspective, again reminding me of both my mother and myself.

Merchant returns to the theme of motherhood and birth again and again. “Bright Blood” (with the title, Translucent, Sealed, as its last line) and “Bleeding Heart” poignantly deal with miscarriage; “Caesarean” draws a metaphor between the great gaping physical wound of the surgery and the emotional/spiritual change of motherhood. “Cord” echoes the recently terminated umbilical cord as the author tries to run away and can’t get very far because of the pull of her child’s need. “Lullaby” is familiar to expectant parents especially those who have already experienced loss:

“…on Tuesdays,
When we mark
Another week
From the calendar
Of what
Could go wrong…”

Not all of the poems are maternal, however. I love the picture of womanhood found in “The magazine article advises ‘Marry a girl who reads’” because it isn’t a picture of womanhood…it’s a picture of an individual woman, which is how all women (and men) must be understood. In this case, Merchant defies shallow feminine stereotypes like innate homemaking skills, beauty on display, social graces, in favor of several more complex and interesting images. She ends the poem on a beautiful but sad note: the truth of me is better than you think, but you aren’t able to see it and understand.

“You think I’m all
Emergency and need,
But really, I’m the one
With the heat on,
Watching flakes melt to glass,
Shining a light
So that,
For the briefest second,
I can hold
The way
The wild flurry of snow
The dark ahead.”

Translucent, Sealed is a book to be read when you have time for reflection. The poems mentioned here are just a sample of the thought-provoking work Megan Merchant has prouduced. Read it when you need to deal with all the heavy, full heartedness that motherhood creates. You won’t be disappointed.


Merchant Author Photo

Megan Merchant’s poems have most recently appeared in publications including Red Paint Hill, Rat’s Ass Review, Mothers Always Write, Crack the Spine and First Literary Review East. She is the author of Translucent, Sealed, (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), In the Rooms of a Tiny House ( ELJ Publications, October 2016), Gravel Ghosts (Glass Lyre Press, forthcoming) and a children’s book through Philomel Books.

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