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Woman on a Shaky Bridge by Millicent Borges Accardi

Finishing Line Press, 2010

Review by Georgia Ann Banks-Martin

The Human Experience

Millicent Borges Accardi has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, and the Barbara Deming Foundation, and her poems have been published in many well respected magazines, journals, and anthologies. However, her latest collection of poems, Woman on a Shaky Bridge, is perhaps the most important work she has produced to date. The short collection of poems captures moments that not only define us as male or female but as members of the greater human society.

It is impossible, for example, to read the first poem, On a Theme by William Stafford, and not feel the deep longing that the narrator has for a normal life, a life that includes living in a home and having a bedroom where clothes are neatly folded and placed in the bureau/ drawer instead of living/ from a suitcase, instead of living in hotel rooms. Most importantly, in the two stanzas and thirteen lines that comprise the poem, Accardi clearly illustrates the greatly underappreciated fact that career women, just like their non-working peers, give up significant portions of their identities, lives, and selves in order to shape and reshape our world.

The poem What People Do forces us to step back from our own conflicts, anger, and lack of patience to consider the idea that all people want the same types of things and have similar experiences. The most powerful statements made in this selection are the opening and closing lines. The piece opens with: they move to Mukilteo and throw/pots or play on the senior soccer league. When this line is read, the voice within that edits and filters everything says, No they move to Winter Park, they move to Selma, because in fact that is what we do. We work until we can no longer or can afford not to work, and then we set off to new worlds where we take up new hobbies, or reintroduce ourselves to games we have not played since our youths.

Yet, the poem closes with they call the police on the white cube truck parked / overnight / every night in the parking lot in front of their / apartment. That line resonates because somewhere in our psyches, we all know that the police are called most often not because our neighbors are racist or suffering from some unexplained insanity, but because they sense a danger that will cost us all something, force us all to feel so unsafe that we install burglar doors and windows, invest in expensive security systems, or worse, we move, run away from the problem, assign the problem to someone else for resolution.

Equally impressive is Accardi’s use of images to present the truths that never are considered. The poem In Prague is disturbing because we are presented with a scene where graves are being destroyed by a construction team without any form of relevance. The bones are simply exposed, collected and tagged:

A skull, embedded in a dirt wall seems, for a moment,
as white and round as bread. Jaws, on metal stands,
tagged with numbers, wait for a turn to be whole again.

There is nothing sacred about this place; the people are too caught up in their revelry and pursuit of progress to realize that they are deconstructing their past:

Here, there are no pebbles of prayer left behind
All is traffic, swollen construction, boroughs
and picture taking, stripping the city’s bark
blind with concrete.

The narrator’s closing thoughts are of a place where bodies are treated with respect and those lost to death stay forever connected to those important to them, a place where it is important that the dead once lived because their lives will always effect the way the next generation lives.

enough for stones and death is a long rope
wrapped around kin I cannot have,
wisdom for the hungry, thumb-prints
for the innocent, tombs for generations.
Take me where memory makes my legs move.
Take me where moss holds language.
Take me where we have a name for the things we do.

This combination of image and thought is not easily forgotten. We must stop to reconsider what it means to have lived, and died, to consider why we have such physical responses to memory, and to realize that only the body dies, only the body is committed to the earth; the spirit belongs to the universe and remains forever accessible.

Woman on a Shaky Bridge by Millicent Borges Accardi is a rare gem of a book that transcends the gender, culture, race, and biography of its author to present the reader with universal truths, and fit us all on the same continuum, a continuum where we gather understanding that no matter our life status, we first are born human.

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