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Reviewed by:
  • Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers
  • Amy Small-Mckinney (bio)
Shaindel Beers. Secure Your Own Mask. White Pine Press.

Shaindel Beers's poetry collection Secure Your Own Mask is about domestic abuse. It is also about the divide and closeness of destruction/tenderness inherent to nature, being human, and language.

Paradoxically, while the book's first poem is titled "The (Im)Precision of Language," Beers extracts language's pulp to discover, with precision, dueling and dual meanings:

How far the ring-necked dove isfrom wringing a dove's neck. The waya stand of trees can hide a deer

stand, concealing the hunter whowill shoot the deer.

Throughout this signature poem, Beers uses repetition and versions of the same word to microscopically inspect and capsize events: "Once, someone who was dear to me / threatened me with a deer rifle," and later: "Said, I don't want to be / divorced. We can make this work, while / working the polishing cloth along the metal // barrel of the gun. My blood barreled through / my body . . ."

Similarly, in "There Are No (Simple) Happy Endings," repetition and alliteration are used to reexamine the oft-repeated theme of always-missing mothers in fairytales:

And it is the always-wanting-always-touchingthat blurs the border betweenparasite/predator/predator/prey

But this is not Mother as Evil Witch; this is emotionally-wracked-and-without-help Mother, longing to "drown in the river / or whiskey, to marry the knife or the pills. To free-/ fall eight stories, but with or without / the baby?"

The Mother Who Left is hero / not monster.To walk away, board the bus, step upinto the cab of the big rig, telling the trucker [End Page 174] Thank you, I've just got to get out of hereis the same story as giving the child love.

Beers's strength, then, is in juxtaposing tough language and narrative with a slender possibility of hope. In "3.22 Miles," for example, a runner searches "for the deer on the ridge with the eyes of the curious, not the starving."

But Beers doesn't offer false hope or romanticize nature. It is, however, the almost-becoming one with nature that shifts poet from standing in front of a class "in a chest brace / because my husband had collapsed // the cartilage between my ribs" ("The (Im)Precision of Language") to the sparrow in "Philomela as Farm Wife." Philomela, in Greek mythology, was raped and then transformed into a nightingale. In this poem, Philomela becomes a bird. She "imagined herself one of the sparrows / stuck in birdlime that she would beg her father to free / when she was a child," then, "as a bird, she looks in the same window she's spent years / dreaming out of, wonders what rumors will spread to explain / her disappearance." Poet as bird and symbol of reclamation.

What makes this poetry so compelling is that there are never easy solutions. Returning to the book's first poem, for instance, "The (Im)Precision of Language," despite the fear the poem's speaker experiences in her relationship, and how she "was never not scared to come home, to fall / asleep, to say the least little thing wrong," she still managed to sing her "sorrow / to anyone who recognized the panic of birdsong, the desperation of the killdeer // feigning its broken wing." Poet becomes killdeer distracting the predator from her vulnerable nest and hatchling.

Eventually, the poet adopts the language of nature in its many forms, sometimes as a seagull in "The Bird Wife," "crying her losses," or as an albatross urging "Be safe—be safe—be safe," or sometimes, as in "Philomela as Farm Wife," as that bird, or in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pelican," as scientist and translator: "the hamerkop and shoebill bridge pelican and stork," and stork can be both "bringer of death," and, of course, deliverer of life. Still, "we must remind ourselves / the pelican is an opportunist," and how "we act horrified / because we like to forget / that we are exactly / the same." In the fourth section of this same poem, a young man

looks into the ice blue of the...


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pp. 174-176
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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