In her debut full-length collection, Good Friday Kiss, Michelle Bitting delivers a ferocious and nuanced experience of womanhood. These are poems of the sister reflecting on her brother’s suicide, of the mother squirting meds into her autistic son’s cran-apple juice and nursing her daughter in a vampiric pre-dawn delirium, the uniformed schoolgirl in a tryst with her married teacher, the wife offering her body like bread to her husband before his long journey, the middle-aged left-coast mom facing cancer, plastic surgery, and taking up the guitar again.
The collection builds upon the success of her chapbook, Blue Laws, offering deeper reflection, sharper perception, and an expanded range of poems. Bittings work is not so much confessional as it is unflinching in its observation, including in its self-reflective moments. In the poem “Strange Flesh,” she thanks a nameless donor for, “inking the little O / on your DMV form, / for prettying up my smile.”
Keenly attuned to both biting irony and expansive tenderness, this collection addresses the question all poetry addresses–“what does it feel like to be human?”–and addresses it head-on.
In “The Annals of Suicide,” the speaker turns from momentary thoughts of self-harm to a noisy bird on the patio:
His crimson chest and pate teased up,
he reminded me of a clown
on a circus night gone south–rain
and the generator blows,
lights fritzing, the tent half-caved.
Still, under a spot’s drained glow
with one perfect trick
he murders the crowd,
the masses staggering to their feet,
in fits of senseless laughter
as his painted lips unhinge
and he gulps the flaming sword–
swallows it down without burning.
Though Bitting’s impulse is narrative, she resists easy moves and shock value, probing the seemingly mundane, not so much for big answers, as worthy questions. In the end, through moments of bold perception and astonishing honesty, we share with Bitting in the bittersweet “education in love / we didn’t know we needed / and never asked for.”