January 30, 2010

Review by Lori A. MayThen, Something by Patricia Fargnoli

THEN, SOMETHING
by Patricia Fargnoli

Tupelo Press
The Eclipse Mill, Loft 305
PO Box 1767
North Adams, MA 01247
ISBN 978-1-932195-79-8
2009, 84 pp., $16.95
http://www.tupelopress.org

I am of the age when parents no longer resemble the friendly supervisors of youth. Now, with each passing year, I watch as the once lively duo slowly fades into a subtle, calm battle with time. We suffer mortality. It is what unites us. And yet, there is beauty in witnessing a life come and go. Amidst pain and suffering, we endure. We love. We fight. Sometimes for our own lives. Sometimes for the lives of others.

It is with such consideration that I find myself pleasantly drawn into the latest collection from Patricia Fargnoli. Then, Something offers an honest approach to human mortality, celebrating lives lived, banishing memories best forgotten, remembering those most cherished.

When I read the poem “Applewood Senior Apartments, April Again,” I cannot help but recall my own visits to elderly family and friends. Fargnoli draws the reader in, inviting us to see through the white walls of solitude, as a lifetime passes through shadows along the window:

You’d been told it would come to this, the turning away
into smaller and smaller rooms. The footsteps upstairs
are not anymore a husband’s, but the thin neighbor
              who comes and goes beyond your window,
his sick cat in a carrier.

We all eventually arrive at this place. Fargnoli not only takes us there, but leads us through the quiet, refined passivity of a lifetime reduced to memories:

Once, you had a life and it was sometimes good.
Your hair was auburn then, you could run.
If only your legs would move today in that remembered
             ease and rhythm.

It doesn’t matter that I am still too young to experience this as a personal flashback; I have seen the eyes of family whose youth has faded, supported their limbs when they could not support themselves, and remembered life where little remains. Life is given to us, and then slowly withdrawn. Fargnoli captures these moments of breath, of beating hearts, and challenges us to breathe life back into the stolen moments of aging.

The poet confronts mortality again and again in this stunning, perceptive collection. “Easter Morning” is a favorite, for its frankness and tongue-in-cheek reactions to strangers, readers, and symbolic figures. Again, Fargnoli’s narration admits concern

about death, how it will come too soon.
Part of me wants release
but we cling to life, most of us,
with passion — or not.

Within this poem, the observations of others, and in particular an “awkward woman,” the narrator wonders about “becoming reluctantly old” and how she “live[s] slowly these days.” It is as though there is much more to read through what Fargnoli presents to sense the line between life and death, passionate desire and comfort with ambiguity.

Fargnoli stretches beyond the immediate to recount lives lost and the impact of losing loved ones long ago. In “The Losing,” the poet resurrects and personifies a mother, if only to relive the loss:

The mother who left in my childhood
is leaving again in my dream.
[…]
My mother is leaving again from the memory
of a white double bed,
[…]
My mother left all my days and nights
and went into the illness for which

there was, in those days, no cure
and no slowing it down.

Fargnoli may dance with death in Then, Something, but this is not to be perceived as a solemn collection. For with every life lost, with each year of aging, Fargnoli offers a glimpse of that impenetrable human spirit that pushes us to carry on. Call it faith, label it as determination, there is hope in poems such as “Melancholy in Late October”:

I have become extravagant —
I have turned on all the lamps in the house —
all day I keep them burning.

Yes, I am of the age where youthful parents are but a memory. I am, myself, not quite as energetic as I was a decade ago. But through Fargnoli’s collection of perceptive, sensitive images, I choose not only to remember lives lost and years worn on, I embrace the spirit in which lives were lived with vigor.

____________

Lori A. May is a poet, novelist, and freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications such as The Writer, Tipton Poetry Journal, and anthologies such as Van Gogh’s Ear. She is the author of stains: early poems and two novels, Moving Target and The Profiler. May is also Managing Editor at Marick Press and Founding Editor of The Ambassador Poetry Project. For more information, visit http://www.loriamay.com.