Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Flag Day in Detroit by Dawn McDuffie
Flag Day in Detroit
Poems by Dawn McDuffie
Review by Prema Bangera
Wrapped in a stone-blue textural cover, you will discover poems radiating the after-math of love—the binding of uncertainties, the teachings of “normalcy,” and the willingness and courage to let go of this love. Dawn McDuffie’s latest chapbook, Flag Day in Detroit, captures us by the throat, and gingerly cradles us with the reality of understanding the inexpressible fear of longing, of picking up the shattered pieces for closure, of allowing something to be larger than oneself and unlearning the fabrications around us.
The book opens with “Marriage, It Turned Out, Was a Disappointment,” a poem about the reflection of a dissolving union, where one finds companionship with inanimate objects and invokes life to daily mundane happenings:
How did broken glass get into the sheets?
The biggest question—why did I marry
this man, not a bad man, but dull,
so dull I had to rely on Cherries Flambé
for lively dinner company.
I would pretend the moon had joined us,
an extra light over the candles…
I imagined she radiated appreciation.
Thank you for the beer and the
sweet and sour pork. Thank you
for thinking of moonlight, even when
I’m invisible, or hidden in the clouds. (9)
Here, we see the narrator breathing in the silence of perhaps living day to day without words, with imagining gratitude and acknowledgement of being alive. The narrator, like the moon, wants to be thought about and no longer carry on invisibly.
In order to feel visible and discover a new life within yourself, sometimes you need to rid old possessions. In “I Wanted To Sell Anything That Reminded Me of Bob,” the narrator wants to pawn, sell, and give away anything which carries the essence of her past:
Brave ship, wind that never died
and four continents of fruits and fishes—
he didn’t deserve these gifts.
I sold four deceitful shelves of books
that suggested we had a past and now
we would have a future…
I gave your birthday present to my sister,
but the wedding ring, green gold vine,
pink gold grapes, I returned to the store.
I used the money for a weekend trip
with my new boyfriend, a limited person
who got drunk every night, but didn’t
pretend that our nightly ritual of red wine,
Hungarian carryout, and sex
meant God ordained a marriage. (10)
These objects no longer felt like belongings, only became artifacts of a life filled with pretenses. The narrator compares the mundane daily activities of her current relationship to her marriage, remembering how naïve she once was to believe that these happenings create a happy bond forever. She was not only selling all reminiscent material, but letting go of all fabrications of an ideal life.
Often people imagine an ideal life as a journey simply requiring love of some sort. In “I Married My African-American Lover and Signed Up for a Class in Stained Glass,” McDuffie creates a clear metaphor between the difficulties of being in an interracial couple and working with broken glass:
I paid special attention to interracial couples that year,
like my teachers, a husband and wife team who loved
the transformations possible with glass…
The teachers advocated first aid supplies.
Have band-aids close by, soap and alcohol.
Be ready to bleed if you take on this work. (12)
How closely the narrator examines skin color with colored glass, light transcending through to create a new world. How this new world takes time to construct, takes on wounds and bruises. A marriage of colors appearing on window panes, and sometimes its beauty is demeaned.
Such lack of comfort causes you to lose innocence and faith in the goodness of others. This touching struggle appears in “The Second Mary,” where the needs occur in paradox:
After the adoption,
after the judge, the social worker,
the child protection agent, our own
adoption representative, after we waved
good-bye to all of them, eager
for the happy ending, the child
fought back, a big eleven –year-old
deep into tantrum, kicking her heels
into the mattress to kill the thoughts
that slept there and came out
to whisper insults and threats.
Our child hatched schemes to ditch us
and find a good mother, a good father.
I hate you I hate you I hate you,
she chanted one night. Don’t leave me
don’t leave me don’t leave me. (17)
How small one feels at the image that an abandoned child’s hatred is in actuality her prayer, her plead for someone to stay and love her. This poem grasps you with its raw emotions of this child, pushing away the love she needs, the love she wants.
McDuffie evokes a sense of delicacy in each of her poems, drawing us into the hearts of each of its narrators, and creates shadows of our own souls in her work. She ends this collection of poetry with the book title, “Flag Day in Detroit.” In the poem, Jon, the husband who is born on Flag Day, wonders “what is a flag waving after all, but a demand to love what I love” (24). He is inspired by Bradford’s tribute to La Création du Monde by Milhaud. Together the wife and husband stand and “pledge allegiance to every pure, weightless note.” McDuffie’s book displays the unification of the world, understanding the clefts created, and appreciating its complexities.