First Kiss, Cara L McKee
Maytree Press, 2020 £7.00
Love poetry as an act of remembrance and reclamation
As one might expect from its title, First Kiss is filled with love poems.
These are not necessarily romantic poems — some are directed to children, to friends, to places, or times. In the vein of Thomas Hardy, though, these poems constitute addresses to the lost, or to that which is on the verge of being lost.
In ‘Twelve’, for instance, the speaker tells her twelve year-old-child about her own early adolescence. ‘Your beauty shocks me daily,’ she tells the child, ‘You think that now is normal but so much has changed’. It is a love poem to both a lost time and a child, as well as an acknowledgement of the fleeting nature of that child’s current state. ‘You don’t have to keep this,’ it finishes.
‘Vitruvian girl’, taking its title from the da Vinci sketch of a man at once frozen and in motion, is also a celebration of a child on the verge of adulthood. Its four short lines are tender and elegiac:
balanced on the windowsill
she fits the circle
of the world awaiting her
fits too the square she’s in.
Other pieces, such as ‘No matter what happens’, almost seem like charms against erasure. The poem (perhaps addressing dear friends) asserts that ‘no matter what happens’, ‘the ribbons of our borders are woven.’
Yet, despite their focus on the fleeting and lost, at the core of these poems there is an act of love towards the self — an assertion of the self’s endurance despite loss. The pamphlet is inscribed, in part, ‘for me, when I was younger’. In the poem ‘you know what it is’, the speaker urges ‘you’ to ‘catch a glimpse’ of what you held ‘once / in your heart’. ‘Now that you’ve found it’, asks the speaking voice, ‘will you let it hide away?’.
The final piece, ‘She Does’, casts the self as ‘she’— a she who ‘does what she does’ and ‘does it / wrong sometimes’, but who nevertheless ‘does / not / stop’.
These are love poems of loss and endurance which seek to prove that to remember (to speak to) is to reclaim, to redeem, to love.