Adrienne Gruber’s This is the Nightmare is a collection of deeply reflective poems that will appeal to anyone seeking to understand the complexities of love and language.
“I don’t pick up foreign languages well,” the poet laments in “Dead Language,” and this is a theme carried throughout “Limbo,” the first section of the volume. Whether the poet is speaking a “jumbled commentary on who we never were” in “Our Frantic Language,” or reading the “Tabloid Poems” that “scald a pink fleshy tongue,” words themselves are suspect. In these poems, language is most meaningful when it manifests through the physical. In “How I Find You,” for example, emotional pain is written vividly all over the subject’s face: “You have the face of a Japanese bowl, / charred raw strokes of paint along your cheekbones, / plump and full, designed with clear intent, / your jaw tight, and pouring / out of you, something cold.”
The poems in section two, This is the Nightmare explore grief, carrying forward the complex search for connection, sense of self, and meaningful language. “[G]rief is a kind of dream you walk through” claims the poet, and the poems in this section are steeped in loss: for lost loves, for missed opportunities, and for failed attempts at understanding one another. Gruber’s vivid lyricism makes each poem a heart punch.
The deep sense of mourning also shrouds the poems in the third and final section, “Why I Can’t Let Anything Go.” The poetry in this section explores the most familiar and intimate and yet most difficult to navigate bonds: those of family. “My childhood house is diseased. A single lung / that sways, tries to breathe, but can’t fill with air” asserts the narrator of “You’re Not Crazy, You Have a Ghost.” These poems are indeed haunted, haunted by painful memories of complicated relationships, of words spoken and left unspoken, of actions taken and not taken. Why can’t we let anything go, these poems ask, and their resounding answer is that the things that haunt us are the very things that make us who we are.
This is the Nightmare explores the illusions we hold about those we love, or would like to love, or have loved and lost. The fresh and crystalline imagery calls into question the effectiveness of language to convey what we really mean, while simultaneously affirming the power of words in the hands of a skilled wordsmith. Above all else, and without becoming pretentious, the poems offer a new perspective on the nature of our relationships with ourselves and with each other.
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