March 2015

Laura Madeline Wiseman


Too Heavy to Carry by Cat Dixon

Cat Dixon's debut book of poetry asks us to consider love complicated by ties beyond the intimate couple, and how such ties trouble the stories of love and family we thought we understood. In Too Heavy to Carry, Dixon explores the uneasy plight of misdirected care and motherhood in a contemporary world made more difficult by divorce, gendered narratives, and assumptions about choice.

Dixon questions the care given by caregivers. In the opening poem "The Bearded Homeless Man Comes to the Unitarian Church Door," such frustration is presented in the form of offering a variety of food to a homeless man who begs for sustenance, but is incapable of asking for what he wants (e.g., candy), even if such a choice would fail to provide nutrition. Immediately, Dixon sets up a contradiction that plays throughout the book, a probing, curious questioning of why we seek to be nurtured, fed, and loved by what cannot or will not.

In "Water," Dixon questions her friend's urge to drink purified water as an act to care for the body by troubling class expectations, consumerism, and projects that pollute the environment. She writes, "But we've destroyed all that water, / haven't we?" counting herself among those whose caring has come up short, but also suggesting that perhaps not all has been destroyed. But it isn't just the care of the environment and the care of the hungry where Dixon focuses her concern, but also the ways we were parented and the way we parent now. "With No Father" presents parents who equate childrearing with a savings account. She writes,

She thought she could leave me
like one does money in an account,

where I'd grow, mature
and incur interest, ready to be

cashed out whenever
she felt like it.

He thought he could
deposit a monthly check

and be done with it.

If that is the parenting Dixon received, the parenting Dixon offers presents a mother struggling with peers -- friends, lovers, parents, partners -- as she struggles with herself in a definition of motherhood that enables her to be more than mother, but also person, woman, writer. In Too Heavy to Carry, Dixon wants to care as much as she wants others to be with her in such acts. In "A Wild Boar Stampedes My House at Night," a dream boar pierces the manhood of her toddler. Though the beast is vanquished, Dixon questions her friend's slow help, and in that dream logic, the friend also morphs into the delayed help of her ex-husband, and the love he shared with another. She demands of her friend, "If you had that before, why didn't you use it before," a demand that is both accusation and lament. Such care explored in Too Heavy to Carry points to the complicated ways we attempt to care for self and others, environment and family, and how our acts don't fail so much as fall short of what we need. Dixon questions both our heroes and the heroes we sometimes are. She writes, "How disappointed I was with my savior."

Dixon also troubles the easy mother-child love, complicating the fairy tale logic of evil mothering with the daily struggles of parenting today. She takes on the mythical woman who desires to eat her children in "On Her Second Birthday" and "Daughters Over Sons," in the form of swallowing her daughter's hair or son's teeth, acts that launch us back into her own childhood and then forward into the longing for the baby gone. Dixon writes, "Now I am alone. Here, waiting for you to return to the baby I wanted, needed, and knowing that will never happen." That longing for one kind of mother-child relationship and hailing of another carries through Too Heavy to Carry as it considers what we expect of mothering today.

In "The Child I Never Had," Dixon explores the ways in which a mother must step in to stop all the unintended ways children can maim themselves and, by evoking such accidental deaths, points to the daydream wishes many parents have had at times to wish their children away. She writes, "I can't regret your nonexistence and I will not regret your birth," suggesting by the double negative and the "and" that regret remains.

Perhaps most importantly in Too Heavy to Carry, Dixon reminds us that mothers are not alone in their parenting, but parent with ex-husbands, friends, and colleagues. In "Commiserating with Another Parent," Dixon writes,

...I'd buy
the whole bar just to sit under
these country stars and have
an ally...

Likewise, in "Once a Woman," a janitor finds a photo of the young woman a husband has thrown in the trash and reflects on the work she does cleaning to support her own children and grandchildren. The janitor retrieves, examines, thinks, and touches the image of the discarded mother. It is this act of care that resonates throughout Too Heavy to Carry. When Dixon evokes Robert Frost's chosen road and Robert Heinlein's free lunch in another poem, Dixon becomes the one who made a choice, and though she's still uncertain what she chose -- for she does ask, "was it a rodent? was it a child?" -- she tells us she did choose. She writes, "I stooped to help something nameless" and ends the poem "and that has made all the difference." Ultimately, in strong, complicated language about the difficulty of being in today's world, Dixon warns us in Too Heavy to Carry that we are all complicit, but in our complicity we can lift what burdens us together.

Too Heavy to Carry by Cat Dixon
Stephen F. Austin State University Press
ISBN: 978-1622880560
88 pages