by Dennis Etzel, Jr.
“What dark thing have you done to me?” becomes a mantra in Rachel Zucker’s poem “What Dark Thing.” As this experimental poem explores how women feel captured by both marketplace and cultural position, its disjointedness reflects this capture as damaging. In Museum of Accidents (Wave Books), Zucker writes her lyrical poems in fragments to explore Twenty-First Century America, poetry, and memory.
One example of where her themes intersect is in “To Save America”:
did you pack it yourself?
has it always been in your possession?
was it ever beyond your control?
did anyone ever give you anything?
is anything wrapped?
are there electronics?
do you have any gifts?
This clash of cultural tropes—the questions before boarding a plane with an anti-commericalism, anti-possessive theme from previously in the poem—help to create a glimpse of America’s anxiety.
Like in her previous books, Zucker’s themes revolve around family life, childbirth, and the connected fragilities, like in the poem “More Accidents”: “this is my family. this accident. these boys. this screaming. // the hard plastic edge of the car seat. the rhythmic crashing / of his short-haired boy-head against my collarbone.” These poems show heartbreak and vulnerability. Her use of years help to establish points in time, non-linear: “I’ll take you, my father said, 1968.” These disjointed phrases come together on the page inside of this sequenced poem.
I admire Zucker for bringing these issues of vulnerability and hopelessness in her work. Not every poem shows a broken speaker, like in “Poem” or “Don’t Say Anything Beautiful Kiss Me.” However, her risk-taking in her work, maybe from her work as a doula and being a mother, shows the heartbreak of what is not often spoken about—the pressures that come with motherhood. In the poem “Long Lines to Stave Off Suicide,” the speaker visits her son’s class:
I make pancakes with Abram’s class he asks Ami
and the teacher chose Luna and Cedric cried and cried and I
let him measure flour because he kept saying,
that’s your mom? your mom? I love your mom! it was weird
so I gave him butter and a blunt knife, hoped the teacher
wouldn’t mind and later found out Cedric’s mom
died in the towers
I couldn’t breathe when I heard it or believe what a good mother
I’ve been just by staying alive
While this poem includes the 9-11 tragedy, it also explores what newspapers and television might consider taboo—the anxieties and fears mothers have.
As “modern” as Twenty-First Century Americans might feel, there is still a need for women’s support and information. Where does a mother turn to cope with the negative emotions and fatigue that comes from child birth and raising a daughter or son? In Topeka, we have the Birth and Women’s Center alongside various support groups. For Zucker, poetry is an additional resource.