A short collection by Amy Schreibman Walter deals evocatively with women experiencing various kinds of longing: but Emma Lee wonders whether the voice is sometimes too passive
Thirteen poems that provide a snap-shot of the lives of American women, current, past or imaginary all contain a sense of longing, often for love, and a rich, internal fantasy life. “Stella by Starlight” is at a party on a roof in Manhattan musing over the irony of serving drinks in cups printed with sailing boats in a landlocked district while another guest tells her,
it was not the season for wool. You were skeptical; I was not. I remember your warm hands at my clothes. Button coming loose, red thread hanging. I remember getting in the rattling elevator with you, reading the graffiti above your hair. It was the first time I ever put my hands in your front pockets, fingers feeling through fabric, to your thighs. I remember how we floated past the stories full of lovers who were surely sleeping. Down twenty-six stories. Outside, the sun rose up behind a Seventh Avenue skyline - the morning, almost an elegy.
The specific details – the loose button, graffiti in the elevator – ground the prose poem before it drifts into anticipation – the elevator transports the not-yet-lovers to the world of sleeping lovers – but ends in the disappointment of a casual hook-up with an elegiac sun rise. This wistful note continues in “TV-Land” where the narrator imagines herself into the “I Dream of Jeannie”, a 1960s’ sit-com where a man, Tony Nelson, an astronaut, has command over a genie called Jeannie, played by Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden respectively,
My dress, a flammable flash of color next to your blacks and beiges, next to your serious expressions. Our relationship would work, despite my dizziness, despite your practical nature.
The boundary between reality and dreams is further blurred through a unreliable narrator in “Asheville, 1936” where Zelda Fitzgerald wakes in a party dress, wet dance shoes and with bruised knees,
Where was Scott? Who put the locks on the windows? She blew onto the glass, watched it steam, wrote her name in lower case letters, erased it. The lawn outside had no snow; seemed like it could stretch all the way home to Alabama. And music all of a sudden, a waltz. She began to dance around the room, uneasy smile, catching glimpses of herself in the mirror, arms stretched around the neck of a man who wasn’t there, side- stepping her feet, twirling herself round, left, right, round again. A key in the door, a nurse in white starched cotton, carrying sheets.
Whilst the poem captures a sense of disassociation, a person clinging to dreams because reality is too harsh, it doesn’t offer any new insights or touch on Zelda’s complicated feelings towards Scott, a man who’d shown promise but sunk into alcoholism. By 1936, Zelda’s own novel had been published to a disappointing reaction and her attempts to revive her career as a dancer had met with patchy success. The poem pointedly references “a waltz” and “Alabama” but there doesn’t seem to have been enough research to raise it above reportage.
In the title poem,
He didn’t try to make you disappear - his departures were enough. The others thought they knew him while you waited out the months...
Here is another woman waiting for her husband. Amy Schreibman Walter’s poems focus on longing, usually for love, and the blurring of dreams and reality. Her women, however, are not contemporary; they passively wait for their princes or settle for approximations of love rather than actively seeking out a man who can satisfy them. In places, particularly in “Asheville, 1936”, it also feels as if the poems have settled into comfortable rhythms and vocabulary instead of being pushed to rise beyond a professional competence.
Emma Lee‘s most recent publication is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015) and she was co-editor for Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015). She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.