01 April 2013

What the Trapeze Artist Trusts by Malaika King Albrecht



What the Trapeze Artist Trusts
Malaika King Albrecht

Press 53, 2012
Perfect Binding, 80 pages
ISBN: 978-1935708544
Purchase Link

Reviewed by PQ Editor Lori A. May

Albrecht opens her debut collection with an intimate letter, her speaker’s apostrophe to the unknown listener, the reader, and perhaps to the poetic muse herself. “We have awakened / mid-dream to find each other here,” the speaker says, before baring her “shoulders and whisper[ing] / so you must lean close to me to hear.”  

What the Trapeze Artist Trusts pieces together a story, a world where personal boundaries are challenged, where the speaker seeks to redefine trust and erase doubt, and invites the reader along for a mesmerizing adventure of self-repair. Albrecht’s poems call upon sirens and mystics, otherworldly selves, and the world of dreamscapes to voyage through the past, the present, and the unknown future.  

The reader encounters “The Secret Keeper,” who “will cradle your handful of bees” and “hold your mouthful of marbles,” in a short verse offering of what it means to disclose those little personal facts we keep dear to ourselves and hide from others. This theme is carried through in other poems, such as “What Hurts Must Be Transformed,” wherein the speaker compares “the hidden / pink taste of secrets” to “sea shells shut tight.” Then, later, the speaker experiences the pain of keeping secrets and bursts out with the need to set her silence free: “sing to the pearl / that becomes the iridescent flash / of a sunfish leaping from my throat.” 

What does it mean to keep silent? What does it mean to trust another? These questions are explored in What the Trapeze Artist Trusts as the speaker navigates dreams and memories, digests choices made, pasts rewritten, and considers what her future holds. At the heart of these poems, the speaker seeks to redeem herself for the grief experienced in loss, with an eye to return with a stronger sense of herself, again capable of loving and trusting another.
In a broken relationship, as introduced in “Tenses,” the speaker distances herself from the pain and ruin of what was once a trusting bond: 

I know the other woman’s body
will fill our bedroom, press
against my chest until I can
no longer breathe next to him.

Albrecht’s speaker faces the past head-on and while she never pities herself for all that has been lost, she embraces what she knows of the truth, analyses the void left by the ache in her heart, and continually pushes to resurface as a stronger being. 

In “How to Walk Right Through a Woman,” the speaker recalls how her relationship was once secure, how “one day / he held my hand, and then another, // my hand slipped through his like sand.” The speaker offers no explanation for why love leaves us, how trust declines, or how a bond is broken. It just is. It happens despite our best intentions. 

Yet in Albrecht’s delicate style, the moment in which love leaves becomes beautiful and deserves a pause for reflection. This is seen in “The Consequence of Silence,” which shows the void that grows when love no longer exists:

the sound between words
the distance between letters
who will remember the truth
that space between what
happened and what we believe

After love ends, when trust has been broken, and a heart must mend, the speaker works her way through pain into recovery. She alone builds up her heart again, opens herself to being whole and trusting again for her own sake, putting herself at the forefront of her life. 

The speaker wants to return to herself, the self she once knew and felt confident with, but the past is gone and she is not able to return to that same place within herself. This is acknowledged in “The Road is Home”:

I want to be the same person
who just left through this door years ago
 but I’m changing even as I promise,
Nothing’s different. If I return, I
won’t be coming back as me.

She cannot be who she once was as that person no longer exists. Instead, she is a new, stronger version of herself. This revelation, this rebirth, comes to life in “How I Came to Me,” as she sings “No longer am I dispossessed / or repossessed.” The speaker sheds her former skin and regains her strength, declaring “I will jump / and I will fly,” firmly stating she has again filled herself with a sense of calm, a renewed sense of self-worth.   

What the Trapeze Artist Trusts is not so much about losing faith when trust fails us as it is about the voyage to regain strength and become a stronger version of the self against the odds. As the speaker navigates through a broken heart and looks within herself for the answers, she emerges gracefully and with conviction that she holds “a present with a future, perfect / even after this / past.”


Lori A. May is the Founding Editor of Poets’ Quarterly.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds as if this is a beautifully thought out and articulated collection, and one that many a reader caan relate to and affirm. Thank you.

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