“In this collection, like a great photographer, Mara Bergman celebrates the moment and detail at the core of memory. She shows people enjoying music, meals, swimming, socialising, and superimposes the slippages in time that make them significant. Her material is the many dimensions of the family, and at the centre of that, the mother.
“Searching, impulsive, Bergman’s poems come from an appreciation of living. She immerses you like a sunset to share the moment. Together, her poems show the great changes families experience – the free and fearless life of a young woman set alongside a dying mother hanging on so she can hold a great-grandchild, the one-sided conversations we have with the dead.
“Bergman uses the memories that help us make sense to show continual movement between the long view and the close up. Her dynamism is infectious – you are drawn into this family’s wonder, love, compassion, grief and happiness. The family and people around it are universal and particular – Bergman shows us a man who steadily cuts a wedding dress into rags, bunting, bird scarers, floss, a mother who keeps her watch on US time when she’s visiting her daughter in the UK, the women whose pasts are lost in care homes. She shows a woman waiting for an endoscopy or holding a phone to the window so her mother, on another continent, can hear a storm. She has poems about dodgy knees and shoes – Bergman can be funny too.
“You want to be with these people because they’re such a tonic. You want to learn from them how to live to the full. Bergman’s poems remind me of Pablo Neruda’s ebullience and belief in the driving force of love. There’s a line summing up this urgency, ‘Hold onto that, don’t let it get away, Mom…’ and one of the final poems, ‘The Happiness’, delivers the book’s message, ‘Before it leaves / I will bury it deep enough to save.’
“The collection ends with a heron and like Adrienne Rich, who insisted her Great Blue Heron was not a symbol, but had its own place, Bergman’s heron is basking in the sun. After reading these poems, you’ll feel braced and ready, you’ll feel wiser and more generous, you’ll want to hold on to moments that contain your own astonishment.” – Jacky Wills
IN THE BEGINNING
After Diane Arbus
While the human pincushion was sticking needles through his chest
in New Jersey, and contortionist Lydia Suarez
was preparing for an audience in New York City, when
for a penny the mood meter at Coney Island could determine
whether someone was frigid or ardent, tender or harmless, and
Miss Marian Seymour danced with Baron Theo von Roth
at the Grand Opera Ball, my sister and I were growing up
in a world of our own in Wantagh, Long Island, our house
built on the land of a potato farm. In the early years our cousins
pierced layers of ice and lowered strings with hooks.
Only miles away, in Hempstead, female impersonators
may have been smoothing their stockings, applying lipstick
and rouge in a changing room with tattered curtains,
and a beloved dog named Killer may have been buried in the cemetery
at Bide-a-Wee, where, years later, my sister would visit the homeless dogs
every day after school, in that summer of 1962
our father’s heart gave up for good. Back at school in September,
we spent weekends at our cousins’ and at the end of the year, in Levittown,
someone we didn’t know would put up a Christmas tree
in the corner of their living room, next to a sofa covered in plastic.
The clock on top of the TV will say 12.47 forever, the second hand
frozen on 8, the light through the kitchen window a persistent muted grey.