Monday, September 15, 2014

Evening Sun:  A Widow’s Journay  by Aline Soules

Andrew Benzie Books
May 2014

Reviewed by April Salzano

Released in May, 2014 by Andrew Benzie Books, Aline Soules’ chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey holds a lot more depth than the title implies. In the first poem, we are introduced to the speaker, the widow who suddenly finds herself alone at the kitchen table “pushing potato and gravy/around [her] plate,” a moment many of us have had the prescience to fear. The reader assumes not the position of the mysterious stranger turning around in the driveway, so easily able to correct a wrong turn, but that of a ghost observer in the now-empty chair across the table. It is here that we remain throughout Soules’ journey through grief, from the first day and its awkward “how are you?” of a stranger to the first night alone, to the moment she faces the knowledge that she is going to age alone.

            As we flash back through italicized memories, as the speaker’s husband “get[s] smaller,/further away, day by measured day,” composers keep us company, reminding us of the strength of memory and the power of associations. Anyone who has ever lost someone knows too well the pain of sorting through what is left: out of style pants, rosaries, socket sets, and knows, too, the feeling of wanting to ask the dead person what to do with these things, of wanting to hear the impossible even more, the answer to questions you never thought you would be asking. Soules captures this range of emotion with painful clarity, especially in “Things I Need to Tell You. Questions I Need to Ask.” a title complete with the finality of punctuation. “Place,” continues to ask the difficult questions that will remain forever unanswered, such as why their son wants to buy his father rather than scattering his ashes. The widow’s voice and note of desperation at the weight of such loss, asks, “Does he believe that anchoring the last trace/of your earthly life will heal the hole/in our hearts?” The haunting “our” could just as easily refer to the wife and her late husband as it does to the people left behind, as if the departed too is struggling under the weight of such heavy, heavy loss.

            “I’ve Changed My Mind,” is perhaps the saddest poem in the collection, for all its real-life imagery. The husband’s heap of dirty clothes, shaving cream spatters, cigarette butts in the toilet remind us as wives that for all their annoying habits, we would miss them if they were gone. If Soules’ intent was to make the reader stop and hold dear the time we have together, it worked. “Hurry. Take the picture,” the final line of “Notes V” tells us in Soules’ perfectly duplicitous language.

            What I liked most about this collection was that Soules does not take us through a chronology of a widow’s grief, but instead intertwines present pain with past joy, and the reverse, ultimately, focusing on the power of memory to remain, like the stubborn dandelion whose “speck of yellow endures.”