February 2007

Courtney Birst


The Second Child by Deborah Garrison

“You were the big fat city we called hometown / You were the lyrics I sang but never wrote down.” So begins the poem “Goodbye, New York (song from the wrong side of the Hudson)” in Deborah Garrison’s second collection of poetry, The Second Child. The goodbyes to her former life are few and short, while the hellos to her new life are many.

In “Short Skirt on Broadway,” the longing of her former life is acknowledged and then pushed away as quickly as possible, as she convinces herself “I’ve learned not to miss, not much -- ”.  “See that girl? / See that quick / no-nonsense / joying in itself / walk?... Just so I / used to walk.” And while she moves quickly past this young woman to focus on her children and her life as a mother, she still took the time to notice her in the first place, so is she not longing -- at least a little -- for her former life?

A short, yet touching poem, “The Past is Still There” is perhaps my favorite in the book. She remembers, at random, the romantic, happy, sweet, funny things that first happened when falling in love: “your laughing into my mouth / as you were trying / to kiss me.”

Several of her poems have small little pieces that remind me of the poetry included in her first collection of poetry, A Working Girl Can’t Win, but these are small, and sprinkled throughout. This is of course good and bad -- good because the new poems are wonderful and different, bad because it focuses on a different part of her life that may be less appealing to some. One such poem seems to tie together the freedom and frustration found in her first collection, with the love and pain in her second collection. “Cascade” begins, “The thing about a love poem is / I don’t know what to thank you for. / Which or when.” And ends, “between us, an upstart, / bright cascade of energy / I could perhaps keep. / I still have it. / I could thank you for that.” She struggles to separate memories -- his, hers, theirs, and realizes they are perhaps one and so she can simply thank him.

The title poem “The Second Child” registers Ms. Garrison’s -- and perhaps any mother who is about to disturb the delicate balance of a one-child home -- fear, sadness, and ultimately happiness at having a second child. “Before you arrived / for a time I cried / nightly at the fattening, spelling the end / of our tight, well-tended / trio.”

“Above the Roar” begins by admitting how many poets feel: “When I was unhappy / words slipped ceaselessly / from my pen, / arrows down the page, / tears run together, / running to tell.” And while this initially had the cadence of one of her older poems, it changes quickly, announcing the sheer happiness and love she feels for her three children, coming to a closure with, “I was wordless, free-”.

While this book focuses on her children and her life as a mother, it is not so smothering that those of us without children are unable to relate to. It gives us equally weighted joys and sorrows and frustrations for having children, but never feels like a lecture, nor does it have a heavy tone.

The Second Child by Deborah Garrison
Random House
ISBN: 1400063590
96 Pages