The Woman Who Cries Speaks by Patricia Staton

The Woman Who Cries Speaks is the second short book in the second volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Patricia Staton‘s long, irregular lines snake down the page in all but the two prose poems in this collection. These are poems composed, like a scrapbook, of memory fragments. But they are also punctuated by a direct and declamatory voice, as in the end of “We Have Our Rats”, where the speaker exclaims, after a by turns disgusting and whimsical meditation on rats, “Hey! Listen up! Nobody here’s mourning rats. / I’m shivering, frowzy, awake, but no.”

This direct, at times outlandish voice, more delicate snatches of memory, and the ragged-line form culminate in the long poem “from: Mother”, which begins:

Every night the dry stars, the tops of trees,
the moon I’m trying to paint a new face on.
Every night at my feet the tomb that holds
what needs to be aired. I am left to leaf through
everything that mattered
that you could never speak of.

It continues in this sonorous way, rich with image fragments, until the speaker interrupts herself with, “This is hard. In this version I don’t know if I hope you hear me or not.” And later: “Someone said it isn’t that the dead don’t listen / it’s that they no longer care.” In this way delicate memory is interrupted and confronted by a second self.

The syntax in these pieces often amplifies this scherzo. For example, Staton dangles prepositions to great effect:

There was the ever-shushed
creature of your mother’s suicide, the lure
of the door closed
on scandal, longing, not knowing, the ghost mother. The accused
stands in Victorian white, the one photo
I look for myself in the eyes of.

The effect of her constructions, the rough-and-tumble moments interspersed with restrained tenderness, the syntax, and the lines that skitter across the page create the effect of self-interruption, as though transcribing a mind in conflict with itself.

Besides the ghostly figure of the mother, French words crop up in a number of poems, often as titles. Staton achieves an imagistic form of surrealism that resembles French surrealists such as Breton and Péret. The prose poem “Sirens on the Fourth of July” gives the most notable example, beginning:

On the balcony a sway of three girls shoulder-to-shoulder facing out in dresses offering little resistance to where the river bends, hair abuzz, sparks from their bare arms dotting the violet sky. A smell of small fires breathing air. It is the song of their backs strung with spines that irradiates the room and doesn’t care who hears it.

At once image-rich and idiomatic, gossamer and gutsy, Staton’s poems jostle and sway through a panoply of sense and no-sense, making up their own kind of rhyme and reason as they go.

The Woman Who Cries Speaks is available in New Poets | Short Books Volume II from Lost Horse Press. Read more reviews from the Lost Horse Press New Poets series.