Below is a brief excerpt of a lovely little review of Sheryl St. Germain’s The Small Door of Your Death. The review was originally published on September 4, 2018. To read the full review, visit their site here.
In five sections, this collection of poems personalizes the abstract “opioid crisis” so that it has a face, Gray’s face, one lit by “almost a holy light” in the anguish of hope before his death and the anguish after it. The book begins in the egg-shell tension of optimism amid addictive destruction, moves through rehab to his overdose, and the long aftermath, from viewing the body to making sense over time of his death and life. Such particular lyric moments trace a much fuller narrative but they have far-reaching social implications.
Had I read St. Germain’s two memoirs, perhaps I could know how autobiographical these poems are, but the poetic disclosures, in tone and image, create an authenticity that is beyond fact; I trust them as I trust any story.
Every life is situated in a net of influences, beginning with family, and those who become addicted are not different. The story presented here is not her son’s biography but the struggle to mother him. The first poem “Loving an Addict” says, “It was always fights or lies. // Maybe at the end // I preferred the lies.” One struggle is the responsibility, which is further complicated by her own “fragile sobriety” and the legacy of addiction in the family. She writes in “King of Swords,” one of several poems that use Tarot cards for titles, “You aren’t like your grandfather and uncle, / you say, long dead of it.” In a poem that compares her son’s difficulties to Odysseus and the lotus-eaters, she admits, “I remember only too well the taste of that sweetness.” She is not only referring to the drug and its oblivion, but the exile of it. She says to her son, “you lived so long in that foreign land / it must have felt more home than home.”