Marys of the Sea
Joanna C. Valente
New York, NY
ISBN: 13: 978-1-942004-25-7
If the current state of American politics has caused its public to become obsessed with apocalyptic imagery, then Marys of the Sea perhaps reflects Valente's vision of misogyny and rape culture as a zombie virus infecting the populace. Valente's narrator devours the world as retribution for the ways in which her own flesh has been metaphorically consumed.
"All mothers eat their children," the book begins. "All children drink their mothers."
In "Creation Myth," the narrator recalls a conversation with her perpetrator in which he asks her why she never pressed charges. She responds with the story of a jellyfish aging in reverse, comparing herself to this seemingly immortal creature that only regenerates when mutilated. "It does not feel when/attacked. Someday I won't feel anymore/either." She continues to travel back in time to the assault, then back to the present moment where she resists telling him how she "used to think of all the ways to fall in front/of cars, sacrifice [her] body to get what [she] had/before."
Subjects in these poems "gorge on slugs" and, in what seems an homage to Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman, feast on "cut-up wife for dinner." Intestines are used as guitar strings. Subway tracks lie "waiting to feel your suicide."
In "American Express," a bank transaction serves as metaphor for the narrator's abortion. In the midst of late capitalism, it is no longer possible to conceive of even the most private activities outside the realm of economic language.
In the wilderness of our present apocalypse, "Wolves follow us through subway cars, their obsession/propels them past honey bones stretched to oblivion;/bunches of lines shaped in half-circles, reaching out for us."
The final poem, "Tarot Reading," offers a mysterious sort of half-redemption in the jellyfish-like regeneration of its subject.
This rebirth is not entirely triumphant, however, as the following lines attest.
The violent dance enacted by the two subjects in this poem sums up the tragic message of the collection: that no matter how much time passes, or how much healing is accomplished, both perpetrator and victim remain imprinted on one another for life.
"My body wants to die but my brain can't," says Valente's narrator, "& things feel bad on the inside now/in new America, my America full//of everyone but me." In this new America, loneliness is a trait that can be passed on from mother to child.
Loneliness is a theme throughout Marys of the Sea, and despite the alienation of the narrator it is a kind of symbiotic loneliness experienced in subway cars, at the dinner table, and while in the throes of memory. It is the ultimate loneliness inherent in being the sole inhabitant of one's body, the only one who could possibly understand its pains and its yearnings, and the knowledge that that loneliness could be shared someday, but not now; not yet.
Isobel O'Hare is a Pushcart-nominated poet and essayist who has dual Irish and American citizenship. O'Hare is the author of the chapbooks Wild Materials (published in 2015 by Zoo Cake Press) and The Garden Inside Her (published in 2016 by Ladybox Books). She lives in Oakland, California.