May 23 2019
Charlie Hill considers Theresa Lola’s method of using poetry to deal with grief and loss
This superb debut collection revolves around the death of the poet’s grandfather, whose Alzheimer’s resulted in a ‘four year funeral.’ Lola’s response to her grief illustrates her unpreparedness ‘for this world of fighting darkness. In “Where is Ja Rule to Make Sense of the Apocalypse” she writes:
Each time news of an apocalypse resurfaces I want recycled statements from celebrities, calling it absurd, sending their thoughts and prayers to the shaken, offering their empty mansions as hideouts, as handmade heavens. How I wish like them I can pretend I am not a part of this, but my ego is not a strong enough lamppost to tie my body to and stop a fire from sweeping me off my bones.
That ‘sweeping me off my bones’ is just one of a number of lines in the collection that stop you dead. Lola is also excellent at a more prosaic accretion of sentiment, an example being “Closer”, which deals with her relationship with her once estranged father:
the last supper I break bread with my father and watch him chew to remind myself he had a mouth all this while. He babbles banter and my mouth plays the laughing track I recorded in preparation for this day. Last night he asked what I wanted to eat for dinner, served me a plate of forgiveness.
The way in which this sobriety sits alongside her vivid image-making hints at the search of the collection’s title; but Lola also offers less oblique clues to its meaning. ‘My new-born brother wailed into existence/and my grandfather’s eyes became two stopwatches/counting down his own exit’ she writes in “Equilibrium”. She then continues ‘As my new-born brother was crowned with a name/my grandfather’s brain began to forget his.’ There is a similar explicit directness in “Death: Definitions (I)”:
noun The plague that whittled down my family size By one less grandfather. Or The tool that maintains equilibrium; One human exits earth for one new one to enter.
For me though, there is another possible reading. At the end of “Blessed Are the Mothers of a Dead Child”, Lola writes:
My grandmother tries to celebrate the brief beauty of his breath. She says what use is sweeping grief under the carpet when you can blend it to find the drop of sanity that will flow from it.
Perhaps writing poetry is the source of this sanity. Perhaps it counterbalances grief. Maybe this is where the equilibrium lies.