01 January 2011

Woman on a Shaky Bridge by Millicent Borges Accardi

Woman on a Shaky Bridge 
Chapbook, 23 pages
Finishing Line Press
ISBN:  978-1-59924-552-2

Link to Purchase

Reviewed by Joan Hanna
Millicent Borges Accardi begins her collection, Woman on a Shaky Bridge, published by Finishing Line Press with a notation about a 1974 social experiment by Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton. In this experiment, an attractive woman interviewed men after they crossed a shaky bridge; she interviewed another group of men after they crossed a low solid bridge. More men phoned the woman after crossing the shaky bridge than those who crossed the solid bridge concluding, among other things:
-       men misattributed the arousal produced by their trip across the bridge to an attraction for the woman.
-       Crossing the shaky bridge is proof of how closely anxiety and sexual attraction are linked.
Millicent Borges Accardi’s collection tackles the concept that anxiety or violence can be misattributed into attraction. But then goes one step further and shows us the interaction and the possible devastating outcome from this misplaced attribute. The collection does not disappoint in its attempt to explore a confusing and sometimes violent response to women under this concept. Accardi packs so much into Woman on a Shaky Bridge, a sixteen-poem collection, which will easily pull you into the many layers within each poem. Whether it is the nervousness of “Only more so” the hidden meanings of actions in “Coupling” or the interplay between brother and sister in “Buying Sleep (for mom)” her use of intriguing line breaks and enjambment create a voice that is halting, defiant and self-contained. This is the voice of a woman who sees things below the surface of seemingly harmless actions. Accardi manages this with beautifully defined language, even when the subject is disturbing, as in “Ciscenje Prostora (Ethnic Cleansing)”:
This woman does not know he
carries the devil’s four poster bed
in his palm, clutching it like promised
money: Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, home.
and then further on:
She knows not to stare back
when he finds her, hiding behind a clay
pot. When his soldier’s eyes become her
life, more understandable that her or me or any
pronoun she whispers out between no and help,
she shuts her eyes, imagining cold weather.
The reader is drawn into these scenes with hauntingly beautiful phrases that hold you in an unsettling juxtaposition of beauty and fear, anxiety and attraction.
“For John, For Coltrane”
This is romance
of the reed,
brutal, and all
the while background
ballads play.
They say he looked ten
years older than the music;
they say the music used
his body more
than love.
This is a melodious portrait of a man who is consumed by what he does as much as who he is; as if he writhes through the music even as it writhes through him.

I was equally riveted by the ekphrastic: “Portrait of a Girl, 1942 (Based on the Jan Lukas photograph of Vendulka Vogelova, taken a few hours before the young girl was transported to a concentration camp)”

I am the mirror for all the world’s silence,
and the ones who slipped through without drawing
blood ...
I am the mirror for the one who is trembling
like a child who has noticed too much, eyes
hard olive pits ...

I am the mirror for all who choose
not to speak. I crack
in the dark. I shine in the snow.
I had such a strong vision of this girl from this poem that I needed to see if I could find a copy of this picture on the Internet. I found an image in a collection of Jan Lukas photos. Unfortunately, this photo was not labeled. Even so, it appears that Accardi has captured the tension, awe, fear, and combined stillness of this girl within the lines of her poem.

This collection holds such a variety of styles, voices, and images that I found myself moving from poem to poem completely absorbed in the depth, beauty, and elegance of her use of language. By the time you reach the end, it’s as if this collection explored more within its pages than sixteen poems could hold. The closing of “In Prague” sums the feeling I came away with after finishing this collection:
Take me where memory makes my legs move.
Take me where moss holds language.
Take me where we have a name for the things we do. 

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