Plain white cover with maroon triangle across bottom right part, and black letteringMaternal Impression, Cheryl Moskowitz

Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2021    £6.00

Returning the body to itself

One image from this pamphlet sticks with me particularly, from ‘Daughter in the Garden’. A girl is standing at the edge of a garden:

                  She is poised as if waiting for something
but there is nothing, only summer stillness.

The moment is described in exquisite detail, as she raises her arms and executes a ‘perfect cartwheel.’

Following the restrictions of the past year and more, this strikes me as a moment we all now inhabit, ready to raise our arms and propel ourselves into action.

Placed in the middle of the pamphlet, that poem propels us away from self-contemplation and isolation. The immediately preceding poems, ‘A Son Awake’, ‘You Had No Hands’, ‘Shirtless’ and ‘Wolf Girl’, consider bodies disconnected from others, alone and in stasis, but following that cartwheel, bodies begin acting in the world.

The next poem, ‘Gourd’ for instance, places the strong image of a baby’s fist in the centre of  the activity and continuity of family represented by a Thanksgiving dinner.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the poems that sit most strongly with me in this regard concern the dead. ‘Instruction’ enacts the ritual care of a dead body, which

       will return them
to themselves.

Again, though it is not mentioned, I found myself considering how Covid took that important ritual space away from so many.

‘Hotel Grief’ is another memorable poem. Cheryl Moskowitz explores the strong physical and emotional bonding of those who sit together with the dying, a complicated observation since the ‘closeness that awfulness brings’ is desirable, but, the poet asks, ‘should I be ashamed of saying that?’

In ‘No Billboards in Phoenix’ the poet addresses another who has died, ‘You — made corporeal by your pen.’ ‘I have you here in my hand, here on the pages you left’ she says. This exchange of a body for pages seems particularly pertinent following a year when so many have been unable to touch either the living or the dead. We have been able to hold and read pages, however, including in my case this excellent pamphlet of poems.

Heidi Beck