Hand in Hand: No Small Gift by Jennifer Franklin

Valerie Duff-Strautmann
| Reviews


Franklin’s poems reflect the communal shock experienced by readers of Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus) or Ovid (Metamorphoses), or the shock of those viewing a photo of two women who died in the Holocaust, or those viewing the more recent viral photo of the drowned child of Syrian refugees:

               The waves touch
               your forehead as if
               to wake you.
               Your mother placed
               your little shoes
               on your feet with such
               care for the long journey
               that they didn’t open
               while you drowned.
               Your small body washes
               up, one more sign
               of our sin, on the sand.

Again love and punishment are hand in hand. This poem captures the devastation of our punishment (“one more sign/of our sin”), but also the beauty of the world in the waves and the mother’s love.

The truth, Franklin shows us in these poems, is that for all the moments of brilliant joy and gratitude we experience, we carry the world’s weight with us, our stories of pain. In “How to Ride the Subway without Getting Hurt,” a title which, like the earlier negatives, one takes as ironic, she ends: “Pretend you can forget about the rats scavenging beneath you./Pretend you can forget.”

Valerie Duff-Strautmann is the poetry editor of Salamander. Her poems have appeared recently in Poetry, The Common, and Cortland Review. This year she will also serve as a consultant to Bob Atwan for The Best American Essays (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Implacable: Thomas Bernhard: Collected Poems, translated by James Reidel
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