Review by Katherine Hoerth
TAILOR SHOP: THREADS
by Laura Cesarco Eglin
tr. by Teresa Williams and Laura Cesarco Eglin
Finishing Line Press
PO Box 1626
Georgetown, KY 40324
2013, 30 pp., $12.00
There are some things about my past I’d rather forget. I think that’s a pretty universal thought, isn’t it? But after reading Tailor Shop: Threads, I’ll never see forgetting the same. It’s a political act, an act of survival even, to forget, to reshape history, to look away from what brings us pain. Cesarco Eglin’s poems don’t let us do that; they don’t let me do that. These are poems about clothing, sure, about a family’s profession, tailoring, about language, about migration, about history, and how these aspects are threaded together through generations to create identity. These poems speak to the importance of remembering.
For example, in the poem “The Tailor” the reader is introduced to a central character, a man with “an eye for measurements” and a tailoring “career in seams.” Through beautiful language and careful detail, we get a bird’s eye view, so to speak, of his life which began in Lithuania and ended in Montevideo, Uruguay. But what happened in between? There’s something sinister beneath the surface with “other fabrics he tied to his feet to unbalance the march towards death. Crude footprints in the winter.” Here, we see the past alluded to, not stated directly, of the Holocaust, of World War II, of pain and upheaval. Instead, the speaker chooses to emphasize the “measuring tape on the shoulder, the glasses on the nose,” and the fact that the tailor sewed “himself an afterwards” across an ocean. Forgetting. In this poem, in the tailor’s life, “the seams don’t show.”
This act of forgetting and remembering, of silence and retelling, is played out again in the chapbook’s next poem, “My Granddaughter and the Chronicle,” where the reader is allowed into this intimate moment, a girl sitting on her grandmother’s knee, going through a box of family photographs. The granddaughter is aptly described as “the princess who kisses the past and awakens it to live.” In these photographs, we examine what’s included and what isn’t, much like one could do to a history textbook, wondering about the implications. The grandmother explains that her wedding photos were cut “to ankle height … the shoes … did not much the bridal outfit” in Rome. The beautiful memories sharply contrast the more painful ones, of Zeide in a concentration camp, “his integrity clinging to the bones,” and too, his feet, “frozen and numb from the death march,” are cut out from the photographs. And again, the larger metaphor of tailoring is interwoven here—that in order to move on, to survive, one must “cut and trim from memory everything that hurts” to “continue making suits.” But ever more important is keeping the story, the memory, “To tell it—a generation later.” The speaker knows how to “refute oblivion” how to “engender/ memory,” and to “conceive a lineage” in voice, in braids, mannerisms, and perhaps most importantly, “keeps repeating alterations.” All of this is done through the act of telling history, of remembering.
Perhaps one of the strongest aspects of this chapbook, however, is how the author is able to weave in language and culture within the context of tailoring, of history, of remembering, and examining this particular thread with such delicate care. In “Connotations” we’re let to explore what the word “camp” can mean: “a place to rest the head and forget” or to “pronounce it with more than just the mouth” to see both the “grass brush against Uruguayan prairies” and “a disquieting gray/ between life unraveled.” It’s both a playground and a concentration camp in one, instead of having to choose one or the other. Here, we see the complexities of identity, of culture, all explored within just one seemingly simple word. Of course, this being a chapbook of translations, one would expect language play, code-switching, and Tailor Shop: Threads is, at its heart, an exploration of the connection between identity and language, the skin and tongue. And perhaps the most significant way to keep memories alive are to speak them—to “ingrain them in my language” to mark them “in my tongue.”
And after examining the Cesarco Eglin family’s roots, in examining identity at its seams, where it was cut, where it was patched, I couldn’t help but think of my own past, which is suspiciously holey like Swiss cheese. It made me wonder what I’m “forgetting,” leaving out from my personal history, my family’s history, our nation’s history, just because some things are too painful or difficult to examine. Tailor Shop: Threads does just this, on a micro-level—these are rich poems that don’t let us forget, that encourage readers to examine not only the past of one woman, one family, but their own history, their family’s, their world’s. It makes me wonder what stories have been cut out, discarded like leftover cloth from the histories we tell, forgotten. Remembering—it’s painful; it’s beautiful; it’s vital. Laura Cesarco Eglin made me want to remember, look back, and reconsider history, all of this from a chapbook you can read in one sitting. Tailor Shop is a little collection of translations that will sit on your tongue like the complex strands of “special shtikaleh broit” with “One generation in each strand.”
Katherine Hoerth teaches English at the University of Texas Pan American. She is the author of three poetry books: a collection titled The Garden Uprooted (Slough Press, 2012) and two chapbooks titled The Garden of Dresses (Mouthfeel Press, 2012) and Among the Mariposas (Mouthfeel Press, 2010). In addition to teaching and poeming, she is a regular book reviewer for Boxcar. She is currently infatuated with chapbooks. (firstname.lastname@example.org)