Patricia Deaton, Review of Carol Matos’ “The Hush Before the Animals Attack”

Book Review
by Patricia Deaton

THE HUSH BEFORE THE ANIMALS ATTACK
Carol Matos
Main Street Rag
ISBN: 978-1-59948-400-6

To be sure, Carol Matos’s book of poems The Hush Before the Animals Attack is not an uplifting book, nor is it meant to be. The “animals” in these poems take many forms, from abusive fathers and lovers to inescapable aging, death and tragedy, all in a poisonous universe with dragons.

The first poem “8MM” sets the tone for the entire book and reading it, one is struck by just how much at the mercy of adults, children are, and how easily for some, distrust of the gods we call parents, is to come by.

Dragons reside in the basement of this speaker’s psyche, but so do a few good memories of the family maid who is a childhood confidante and keeper of secrets. “Saved” shows just how much this woman meant to her. In “Dear Elizabeth,” the trusted friend meets a tragic end at the hands of a jealous husband.

Throughout the book, run the threads of disappointment and edgy despair. The poem “Salt and Ice” (the last line of which forms the title of this book), for example, seems to be about incest. Lines such as “She lets him gather her, luxuriates in his hands…she’s her own accomplice. Adept at his deceptions, she edits herself. Join his delusions…It’s not a dream she glimpses,” convey the obsessive psychology of sexual abuse and manipulation.

Also throughout, there are flashes of faces flat to the floor, bruised by carpet, suggestive of resentment or of hiding from abusive treatment or the world, in general. “Paper Wasps (P. Fuscatus)” is one example…“the muses of rapture are all mute now…Certain wasps recognize other wasps by facial features while some humans have face blindness…my head upon the fractured floor…I draw my name in the gathering dust.”

Even in romantic love relationships, there is no relief from doubt, fear of abandonment or a desire to make someone pay. Some of the most resonant parts for me dealt with the relationship of author and mother, and her mother’s aging and death. “Amethyst” reminds us how life-stopping the final days of a loved one can be.

The elegies in Part IV (written for the author’s niece from the perspective of the niece’s mother) are filled with the gut-wrenching grief of a mother who has lost her daughter–from the onslaught of disease to the scattering of ashes. If you are a parent, you will understand how these poems could be written. If you have lost a child, you may not be able to bear “Stay Near” because of its sadness.

This book is worth reading for the reality of the lines that describe how women feel in youth, in their prime and the invisibility of aging. “That Summer” is a poem about reaching puberty…”Watching the blood run down my leg, I worried the whole world could smell me”.

Being an older woman, this, from “39 Fifth Avenue” spoke to me. “The young women take no notice of me, see only themselves…the doorman smiles, with them in mind. I unbutton his uniform.”

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