Poet Cate Marvin, a resident of Scarborough, titled her new collection with a term that astrophysicists use to refer to the edge of a black hole: “Event Horizon.” It’s no surprise, then, that many of these thirty-eight poems churn with the danger of being a woman in a dangerous world. The speaker itemizes her losses. She mourns a beloved mentor. A friend’s ghost visits her at a reading. Another friend has committed suicide. Her romantic relationships and flawed marriages bring turmoil: “I cross the sea of ex-husbands.” Violence abounds: “Bones crack inside a body like glass / in a sack … after a body is flung from / a bed.”

And yet, as relief from the romantic turbulence, the collection is also threaded with the warmth and humor of poems about mother-daughter relationships. The speaker is fully engaged in protecting and nurturing her child, a grubby little girl with dirty fingernails who draws cats looking out “from their moon / thrones, their feline planet” and who worries about her best friend going hungry. Even with the litany of the exhaustive tasks of motherhood, there is a kind of energy and nostalgia for the years when life revolved around the infant’s needs. The child not only gives her mother purpose and a place in the world, she also helps keep her whole.

For years she spared mefrom my
own self-interest. Now, she disappears
into steam, shutting the door behind
her. I, too, dissolve.

The narrator has managed to extricate herself and her daughter from dangerous situations of abuse, but the details come in bits and pieces as though she is trying not to think about them too much. The title poem is addressed to an abuser. “Remember when you stabbed me on my birthday?” When they meet again, months after the abuse, he smiles as though he doesn’t know her. She seems to doubt herself: “perhaps it was true. We had only just met.” This poem’s careful form – couplets of equally balanced lines – suggests order, the way the ex’s smile and flowers suggest normalcy, but the narrative seesaws between present and past tenses, pulling the reader into the speaker’s fragmented experience.

In “The Eyes of the Neighborhood,” the speaker shares a list of incidents of abuse she has witnessed, including a girlfriend who “died / from an overdose just after she took out a restraining order.” The “eyes” of this poem’s title suggest the narrator’s watching, witnessing. She hasn’t really acknowledged her membership in the abused wives club, but she is emotionally linked to these women. The second person narrative distances the speaker, but a photo of her former abuser on Instagram or Facebook pulls her back into her trauma:

[H]e has once again begun, his presence reassembling itself.
his knowledge slow and certain as blood seeping into a carpet.
Recall the wreath of prints around your neck, his pomegranate-
stain necklace.

The eye is an important motif in “Event Horizon.” Anime eyes, the eyes of a stranger, the child’s eyes – are they gray or green? Our speaker practices hard looking, observing truths about her past and about herself. She notices things around her. She first sees the daughter in an ultrasound image. She sees other women who have been abused. Sometimes seeing means a new understanding, as when the speaker “sees” something new about her father after his death. She tells us, “It is true . . . my life has been easier since he died.” But she also recognizes the positive aspects of their relationship, that “he knew how to fix/ anything and that he was utterly reliable.”

“Event Horizon” ends with “They/Them/Theirarchy,” a rugged denouement in which the child, non-binary, gives themself a second birth through adopting a new name. The enactment of such a transformation requires that the mother transform, as well. She has always centered her child’s experience. Here she must mourn the “loss” of that daughter, while fully embracing the child’s new identity. She wishes for the child to truly see themself: “We don’t keep enough mirrors in / this house. They are more beautiful than they realize.” The mother also takes a good look at herself via the Zoom screen of a domestic-abuse session: “Women’s faces collect in / rows of chocolate-box squares on my laptop. Each / one may as well be me.” Up to now the narrator’s “seeing” has mostly involved looking out, watching the movements of others. She has been in reactive mode, moving to avoid. In this final poem, the watching takes place at home, and the “seeing” is reflective, introspective rather than watchful.

Jeri Theriault lives in South Portland. Her poems and reviews appear in The American Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, The Texas Review and The Collagist, among many others. She is a 2019 Maine Literary Award winner, and the editor of “Wait: Poems from the Pandemic.” Find her at www.jeritheriault.com

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