"'Harless, this is dispatch, please respond.'
We wait for his voice to come over the air.
'Harless, this is dispatch, come back?'
Come back! I think.
'Dispatch to Harless, please respond.'
He doesn't, and he doesn't, and he doesn't.
'Dispatch to Harless,' the voice on the radio says. 'You are
relieved of your duty. God bless you for your service.'"
As I (and my regular readers) can personally attest, poetry can
become a working out of salvation for people who go through a lot of
trauma and change. It can help glean insight into self and others,
give comfort, create identity, and communicate with others. Sarah
Dooley's Free Verse explores this process beautifully through the
thoughts of an unforgettable protagonist.
Sasha's troubles began when she was only five. Her mother took
off, leaving her coal miner father as sole parent for her older
brother, Michael, and her. Then a mine collapse took their dad's
life. While only eighteen, Michael put his dreams of Navy or college,
of escaping their worn out town, on hold to care for Sasha to the best
of his ability.
[flashback] "I thought of our mother, who ran away, and I linked
my arm through Michael's, suddenly scared he might disappear too. It
wasn't till a long time later, thinking back, that I realized that was
around the time Michael stopped talking about getting himself out of
here. The only escape he talked about anymore was mine."
Sadly Michael died in the line of [fire fighter] duty.
Sasha is having a hard time of it in her foster home. She's
constantly running off. She does destructive things she can't
remember. She finds sessions with the school guidance counselor
pointless. She does her best to save for the escape Michael had
convinced her was essential.
But Sasha has two things going for her. There's the next door
neighbors turn out to be cousins, separated from her closer kin by a
long ago falling out. And there's her newly discovered ability in
poetry and the peer poetry club she is invited to join. The poetry,
however (as I have also discovered) is a mixed blessing.
"Now there are even more words, too many words for me to write
down, bubbling up in my head and through my heart, and I can't make
them stop. I hear patterns of syllables in my head, 5-7-5, and they
are all about loss and death and sadness and men with grimy faces who
leave for work and don't come home. It's like haiku has opened a door
inside me that I'm trying with all my might to shove closed..."
At that point she swears off poetry. Don't worry. It's a
promise she can't keep. Her narrative is authentic and well worth
On a personal note, now that I have a fire fighter son, I notice
sirens in a way I never did before. I look for the truck(s) to see
the town(s) responding. I have a new fear of losing the young man who
towers over me but will always be my baby to the call of duty. Every
time I read the excerpt I quoted at the beginning of this review I
have tears in my eyes.
A great big shout out goes out to all the firefighters who protect and
Sent from my iPod