This collection of poems is a memoir in verse: it is a lyric and epistolary exploration of what it is to live in the limbo of an emotional and psychological ambiguity whose genesis lies in maternal loss, mourning, depression, and despair.  The poems are arranged in three sections:  “Crossing,” “Asylum Song,” and “Holding.” 

The “Crossing section generally conveys to readers the nature of life in this limbo, even as it discloses some of the familial anguish that has brought about a repressive silence in the poet’s mother, as well as a depression that wreaked its havoc on the poet’s growing up.  The family mysteries and the suffering of the poet prompt her to research the death of her maternal grandmother, and we learn many details of that loss in the poems of the “Asylum Song” section. 

A Czech immigrant, the woman had, in the old country, lost her parents and sister, and she’d apparently abandoned—for reasons unknown—her illegitimate child.  She’d married an older man and moved to the States.  After giving birth to another child, she suffered a postpartum depression, for which she was placed in an asylum, and was heavily and inappropriately medicated.  She died within three weeks, at age 34.  Her daughter, the poet’s mother, grew up in her absence and, in turn, lost her own child—the poet’s sister—in infancy, prior to Baptism. 

According to widely held beliefs of Catholics at the time, the infant would thus be relegated to Limbo for eternity: she would be barred from union with God, this is to say, though kept free from any punishment or any suffering, other than the longing for a bliss she could never attain.  Such a belief would clearly exacerbate the feelings of failure and guilt that a mother might feel in losing her infant.  The poet’s mother’s depression resulted, unsurprisingly, in a bewildering absence of maternal care in the poet’s life: she is stuck in her own “asylum” or Limbo—a state of emotional confinement where she maintains some vision of “beatific” maternal love, but feels it forever beyond her reach to experience.  The poems of the final section, “Holding,” convey the struggle and surprising joy of inhabiting this Limbo.


Many of the poems in this collection have appeared elsewhere in numerous literary journals, but the gathering and assembling of them in this volume is an accomplishment worthy of note.  There is something reminiscent here of the Editor of Sartor Resartus, suturing together an autobiography from scraps of texts drawn from an assortment of bags, and fashioning from them a coherent, moving story for devoted readers. But there is another, more fundamental interest Beaumont shares with Sartor’s author, Thomas Carlyle, and this has to do with the nature of a word and the truth that word represents. 

Beaumont is concerned, principally, with the signifier "Limbo," which the Church only recently determined to refer to a defunct "theological hypothesis," though belatedly and tragically so for Beaumont's mother.  Still, we should not cast the word aside, Beaumont suggests, but re-fashion its signification.  There seems to be a place for the re-tailored drapery of this signifier “Limbo." (Indeed, one of the few things desired by the inhabitants of Limbo is "a box of tailor's chalk" (4).)  We need a name for that indeterminate state of not yet, that place of neglect or oblivion where we experience ourselves confined and kept perpetually from the beatific.  Or maybe we need a word not for the afterlife state of a baby who dies before christening, but for the state of the mother who, having lost her infant, experiences herself eternally beyond the reach of joy. 

Beaumont’s supple, sure, but marvelously gentle orchestration of images and rhythms carry us, in the poet’s words, “careful as a / mom cat’s carriage / of kits in her mouth” (24), into this abode of perpetual disconnection, where one retains a vision and sense of union with life divine and beautiful, but grasps that there will never be an experience of being enveloped within it.  The state is not Emily Dickinson’s post-pain “formal feeling” of numbness, but one of surprising serenity and calm, where anguish is never forsaken but clasped with a kind of reverence, and hope is lived at the limit of infinity.  “It’s not what you surmise, this abode,” writes Beaumont.  “This abiding / is no state for those with habits of impedance, / those unable to complete” (63). 

Those in this Limbo are engaged in a vigilant endeavor to hold onto and reaffirm a hope that will never be realized in fulfillment:  “To sustain our decommissioned domain demands / constant imagining,” she says; “each me each moment keeping one piece, holding on. / That’s how we’re holding up” (63).  The vivifying imagining leads Beaumont to look back, lyrically, upon her own life, her mother’s and grandmother’s, upon a christening gown and an old coat and a love blossoming in the incomplete construction of a home—and sew all these fragments into a cloak of tenderness.  Her labors lead her to find companionship with painters, too—to whom she responds with an intimately passionate gesture of ekphrasis.  Her contemplation of Pierre Bonnard’s Dining Room on the Garden leads her to a longing to “fall into the painting,” in spite of the fact that nothing about it beckons her and that the woman in the painting would not welcome her. 

Yet Beaumont longs to live within the painting, to “allow the lush / Pigments to enwrap [her] like expensive scarves” (7).  It occurs to her that, perhaps, she already inhabits it, in the “ghost streak melting its gold into the wall.”  And she recalls that, “for many years I kept to a room I could not bear / To exit, the world beyond the window baffling, unreadable / As Mars” (7).  Whereupon she sees, in the painting, that “The room is thick with bars . . . / Camouflaged by décor, by window frame, by fabric— / I can’t see how to get past all these verticals” (7).  Such is the asylum, the Limbo she invites us to share with her and with Bonnard.  And then she leads us into the contemplative habitation of Gustave Courbet’s The Preparation of the Bride / Dead Girl, that marvelous painting of women dressing a dead, naked girl for burial—subsequently painted over by someone other than Courbet to represent a live girl being dressed for her wedding.  Slipping into the painting as the girl, Beaumont finds herself bewildered—does not know if these other women are dressing or undressing her and does not know to what end they are doing so.  “Help me,” she pleads; “it appears I can’t go forward or / backward.  I’m awkward.  Unfinished” (18). 

In the lyric “Dream of X,” Beaumont comments that “A person who has entered your body / never entirely exits” (67).  What Beaumont seems to have done, by means of her poems, is taken us with her into the body of Courbet’s dead and living girl, where we grasp the reality of Limbo, enduring beyond the theologians’ hypothetical accident.  And we can’t get out.  Our journey prompts us to share Beaumont’s convictions: “So much I didn’t know yet. / But yet I understood" (6), where yet is neither simply an adverb nor a conjunction, but a noun, referring to a state we could otherwise call Limbo.


CavanKerry Press

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New Jersey



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