Tiffany Troy reviews a collection of poetry that features heroines who love those who are oblivious to the suffering they cause.

Jennifer Franklin, If Some God Shakes Your House (Four Way Books, 2023), 120pp.

Jennifer Franklin’s If Some God Shakes Your House features heroines who love those “oblivious to the suffering [they] cause.” The female characters in the collection—the daughter, the wife, the mother, and the sister—persist in thinking and speaking in spite of the ubiquity of death. Death—literal death, and death in life—resounds through the timbre created by the three intersecting leitmotifs of the collection, namely the “As Antigone” persona poems, “Memento Mori” ekphrastic poems, and “dated” personal poems.

The collection opens with two “As Antigone” poems, begging the (rhetorical) question of whether it is only through persona that the speaker—long silenced and portrayed mistakenly—could raise legitimate questions about the oft-violent and coercive silencing of the female body in the sphere of domesticity. What Antigone desired was never “glory,” and what pushed her onwards was not some impulse, but a “deliberate” and “deep lament” of “anger” and “apple.”  Each poem flows associatively to the next, as a kind of eternal return theorized by Nietzsche, as myth, history, and personal history coalesce into a call to see “when the one who does the judging judges things all wrong.” It looks to an ethics that values female autonomy through an Antigone from Creon to the present.

Like the “As Antigone” persona poems, the “Memento Mori” ekphrastic poems remind us of how “what is damaged becomes a weapon.” They look to the immensity of suffering as products of nature and human calamity through what is left behind, in artifacts and human remains. History becomes as omnipresent as the headlines of deaths, of children’s entrapment in cages, and of women’s rights being ruled away. Death is as natural as it is unnatural, as when the speaker yearns for her mentor, now suffering from Lewy body syndrome, to “talk” and “mark these lines with his sharp black pen.”

The speaker’s persona, indeed, becomes an artifact. The social expectations (of the husband and mother) imposed on the speaker act to severely limit her autonomy, who has always had the right to choose only “on paper.” Family members act by trivializing the speaker’s particular concerns over hyperemesis, and with threats of abandonment by the surgeon-father if she did not have the baby, only to have him stop loving her anyway. The fickle one is not the woman, but the surgeon-husband who ordered a “psych consult.” It was the husband again who insisted that their daughter’s disability was the speaker’s fault, and who left the daughter and the wife anyway. Perversely, the wife, to feel less guilty, feels less guilty after learning a relative from her husband’s side was institutionalized. This is indicative of how the poems present the psychology of the speaker as morphed by the social expectations placed on her. Franklin cannot sleep in the aftermath of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, as she cannot imagine a society where women are stripped of their right to choose, as she once was not able to choose to terminate the pregnancy. The tragedy lies not because she does not love her daughter, but because she loves her too much.

The love Franklin harbored for her daughter is brave, honest, and poignant. Rather than flattening her love for her daughter into an unconditional source of unbridled devotion, the mother feels relief, or perhaps pity, in the daughter’s “babbling in the indecipherable language,” not unlike the polar bear in Central Park who “would never get anywhere in spite of how hard he tried.” That feeling of entrapment, despite all that gold light above the quicksand in Goya’s “The Dog,” is the feeling of a mother “crying and incapable of comforting her” child, as she is “married… off to wood, to run.” The dead in the “permanent Pietà” is not the daughter, but the speaker herself.

In the collection overall, the speaker is permanent not as stone but in her steely perseverance. She is alive and “no longer hold[s her] tongue like the good girl [she] was taught to be.” She no longer endures in the position of a bent figure of the ballerina when she could not see “where [her] daughter is headed.” In her lament, she has constructed an ethic where autonomy and love in spite of hate can coexist, a utopia that perhaps could only exist in dreams, in remembrance, and in thinking, as Antigone did: “How you wouldn’t accept / they were dead. // That planting them again / would not let them bloom.” Franklin imagines a world where the crime of thinking for oneself is no longer perceived as a crime, where the “bulbs” might just be transformed “as different flowers” under a different paradigm radically different from our own.

Tiffany Troy is the author of Dominus (forthcoming, BlazeVox) and the chapbook When Ilium Burns (Bottlecap Press) as well as co-translator of Santiago Acosta’s The Coming Desert /El próximo desierto (forthcoming, Alliteration Publishing House), in collaboration with Acosta and the Women in Translation project at the University of Wisconsin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s