In Sheryl St. Germain’s new collection, we find ourselves enthralled by one woman’s attempt to look straight into the eyes of Loss without blinking—to speak, without stuttering, grief’s true name—a name none of us wants to know, though we always listen for its inevitable approach. St. Germain’s work teaches us how to talk back, how to talk through the intimate agonies that, in many ways, define what it means to be human now. Muriel Rukeyser said poetry cannot save us but it is the kind of thing that could. I think this book is proof of that.
In this brilliant, wrenchingly beautiful book, Sheryl St. Germain limns the unbearable death of her son via overdose, the agonizing history of her family’s addictions, and her own fragile recovery. With astonishing lyricism, she gives us “snow and its dark sister: a kind of brutal cold that stings you awake.” She gives us an “Ode to Needles,” in which the needles of White Spruce and Lodgepole Pine become the needles both she and her son used to inject drugs. And in “Versions of Heaven,” she takes us to a place where her musician son might be “showing the gone ones…how to scat god’s breath.” This book is an invaluable companion for anyone who has wrestled with addiction, or lost a loved one to it. St. Germain knows both the rawness of grief, and the ways we must find to go on living. She can help us learn.
—RUTH L. SCHWARTZ
These poems chronicle the passage of a mother and her son into the abyss of drugs, sorrow, confusion, hope, despair, and love. The mother’s voice struggles to bear witness, to be present, forgoing excuses while trying to answer why, the question that rings a million times in mothers’ hearts throughout the world, to forever cycle and orbit into every cell of the compassionate and caring heart. This collection gives us answers in gray, neither black nor white, but as they must be in our human experience, gray as the dawn that precedes the rising sun.
—JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA