The opening poem, “A Man Sleeps, the Skies Move,” sets the tone of Millicent Borges Accardi’s poetry collection, Through a Grainy Landscape—one of imminent worry and portent, one of the sadness of memory and admissions of guilt, one of the realities of life “that it is what it is.” The speaker tells a child, “Please, be an adult,” and “Do not fall asleep without worry,” preparing the young one for what may come. The poem’s title from a line by Luis Quintais emits an aura of magical realism that mists itself over this first poem and the entire collection with language that flows with stories like cascading water.
Portuguese language and culture permeate the poems in this collection, announcing themselves in nearly every poem through memory, “What you / longed for as a memory. Saudade,” and through experience. Accardi’s collection consists of a number of poems that take their titles or inspiration from other poets as well, and these feel like jumping-off points for the poems to soar into ideas close to the speakers’ own as if to provide scaffolding, giving them solid footing and helping them get to where they need to go.
Subsequent poems delve deeper into the experiences of women in relation to men and children in past and present worlds where there seem to be clear lines of demarcation between genders. The second poem of the collection introduces Portuguese fisherwomen “bound / together, like time they have wagered and lost,” who “long to don sadness, / like a dark shawl around their forearms. / It is a uniform, encompassing wool, knitted / halfway between loss and joy.” Some poems address a husband or lover, others highlight women’s lives at different times in history. Each poem builds on the previous one, reaching back for language and images that feel part of a larger story.
Accardi plays with language in several poems, revealing the power of words in relating the power of situations. In “It was my Mother who Taught me to Fear,” the irregular verbs get the attention and focus, demonstrating time’s movement, different perspectives. Referred to as “the irregular verbs of culture” their use strengthens the relationship between language and life, perspective and struggle. There is a starting over “pretending you were someone / else to fight, fought, fought.” Later becoming part of the US melting pot “As the train car runs through / every state in the union, interwoven, interwoven / in a pattern called starting over.” The speaker uses the tense language of verbs to emphasize what was done, what was gained, and what was lost. Followed by the mournful “Of a Verbal Silence,” language is further emphasized by the speaker:
We say a few words,
Half-remembering what the last
Life of words should be, and we name
Off the flavor of our grief, all
Emotional and shaken, fingertips
Attention to language and its uses for survival permeates Accardi’s collection, revealing tones of loss and loneliness. Still other poems work to define truth and abandonment. In “You Swung Round,” Accardi asks the tethering question: “Is the female of the species only a vision / To want / To attract, a steadfast of do or don’t / A lifetime based on one I do? / A have and a have-not no matter what?” The speaker explains that women are “The only gender to instantly transform / In three phases only: child, mother, invisible.” In this and so many of her poems Accardi sheds light on culture and language that continues to keep women in subservient roles with no way out of a patriarchal system.
From “I’ve Driven all Night through a Grainy Landscape,” the speaker’s tone of futility is evident in the repetition of a phrase and the thought that truth “… is what it is and that / means even if it kills me, I will be true / to my own patience.” The poem echoes the wishes of many during a global pandemic admitting that “to normalize interactions, the daily hellos / we take for granted, the guarantees we / make with each other must be labeled / seared into agreements that we promise / to be civil or polite to each other,” that yearning for a normalcy that never really existed but that the speaker of Accardi’s poems hopes for in the midst of longing and the hurt that accompanies it.
The poet Carol Ann Duffy said, “Poetry, above all, is a series of intense moments,” and this is true of Accardi’s encompassing collection that delivers emotional language in lyrical narratives that focus on the pain of memories and describes the collective we as “Thick with kindness,” and “… full / of tragedy and a need for love, / suppressing all the world before us, / to just be understood.” Robert Frost’s notion that “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness,” is evident in that each poem addresses a different type of hurt or longing, and identifies from where they might have emanated, in places and people we assume will be there for us but which somehow have slipped “off our fingers like rings / In cold weather, gold rings slipping off / Fingers and disappearing into the frozen / like escaping through an open window.” Accardi reminds us too that “… love is not solid matter, / or fleeting. It is a power I can / call upon when I am feeling / weakened by large things / like life and all that encompasses / it.” It helps each of us make it through the grainy landscape that we are up against.
Through a Grainy Landscape, by Millicent Borges Accardi. New Meridian Arts, October 2021. 106 pages. $16.00, paper.
Anne Graue is the author of Full and Plum-Colored Velvet (Woodley Press, 2020) and Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press, 2017). She has poetry in SWWIM Every Day, Verse Daily, Rivet Journal, Mom Egg Review, Flint Hills Review, Feral: A Journal of Poetry and Art, and in print anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books, 2017) and Coffee Poems (World Enough Writers, 2019). Her book reviews appear in FF2 Media, Adroit, Green Mountains Review, Glass Poetry Journal, and Kenyon Review. She is a poetry editor for The Westchester Review.