by Scott Owens
AND WHEN THE SUN DROPS
Finishing Line Press
No one gets it right all the time. And even when we get it right, we never get it entirely right. Even the best human life consists of minor flaws and blemishes. Connie Post’s poetry in her new book And When the Sun Drops demonstrates her understanding of this as she reflects on the successes and failures of her life with an autistic son. Ironically, these poems also demonstrate that when it comes to poetry at least, Post is one of the best because she comes closer to getting it right much more often than most.
A good poem carves out space in the tedium and distraction that normally fill our minds for meaningful imagination, for the practice of closer perception, reflection, and human empathy. A good poem makes us, if not better people, then at least better perceivers, thinkers, relaters, better users of some of the skills that make us people. In her poem “Bridge Collapses Into the Mississippi,” Post uses visceral imagery such as “I imagine . . . / what the hard edge / of water / must feel like” and “the open sigh / of the river” to make an almost literal impression on the surface of our minds, to help us perceive and empathize.
Post knows, however, that the deepest impression is made not by the imagery she captures and conveys but by the imagery she coaxes us into creating for ourselves. Thus, later, as she reflects on the actual event from 2007 mentioned in the title and on the memories that must have followed, she leaves room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks in perception and thereby strengthen our empathetic capacity,
the screeching will
make unannounced visits
when the river appears
to be sleeping.
Such opening of space for the reader’s imagination and empathy is how a poet creates resonance, those lines that are haunting, that literally give us chills.
At this point in the book, the reader might rightfully wonder how this poem about a tragic bridge accident has anything to do with raising an autistic child. Again, Post brilliantly leaves room for the reader to fill in the blanks, in this case to draw the lines that connect the imagery of a bridge collapse with the feelings of parenting a child whose communication and perception differ so significantly from what most of us can understand. Most readers will be unable to make this connection before reading a significant portion of the book, but Post provides the language of that connection here to resonate throughout the poems that follow:
I still find myself going back
to the elegiac banks of the same river
watching the water silently forgive itself
for not knowing
how to cease.
Through the narrative of this opening poem and its connection to the poems that follow, that river becomes metaphor for the Sisyphean human endeavors that define parenting and loving, namely to communicate, to sustain, to help, and to accept.
Essentially, the story behind these poems is not only the story of that river but the story of all of us who begin on insufficient knowledge, who go on, “not knowing / how to cease.” These poems show us that it is not possible to wait until things make sense. We know that hindsight will show us our flaws, but the choices have to be made when they present themselves, even if we do not recognize the very nature of the choice, as expressed in “Speaker with Autism Presents at Local Community College at 7 p.m.”:
now that you are in your twenties
your disability changes shape
today — it makes more sense
why you screamed so much when you were young
hit yourself throughout adolescence.
And so we see the speaker of these poems in “Getting You Dressed” persisting in the only way any of us really can:
fastening one snap
at a time
one fold at a time
one year at a time
even while she knows that they “leave the room . . . / holding the same abacus / the same beads falling.”
Finally, Post reminds us that just as no one gets it right all the time, neither does any society; and that just as Sisyphean persistence in efforts to communicate, sustain, and help is essential to individual progress, so is it also to social progress. Her poem, “A Letter in the Newspaper,” which I repeat almost entire here, makes this clear:
“This group home has no right to exist in our neighborhood”
how do I tell you
that there is bigotry in the world
hidden in neighborhoods
with white doors
and narrow streets
how do I tell you
when you can’t talk
why they will not speak to you
how do we find a way
to let the asphalt hold more than the weight
. . . . . . . . . .
I am not usually thankful
that you can’t understand
so many things
when I open the morning paper
and see the scorn divided out
like servings of broken dessert
I am secretly grateful
that you cannot know this sting
feel words like thistles
from those who will never give you
your last cup of water before bed