One of Everything
Fisher, Diane Gilliam
Genre: Collection (Poems)
- Davis, Cortney
- Date of entry: May-27-2004
One of Everything is vol. 54 of the Cleveland Poets Series, and author Fisher's voice and subject matter are, for the most part, rich with the language and imagery of blue-collar, mid-Western, and Southern life experiences. A strong introductory poem, "The Way Home to West Virginia," introduces some of the collection's themes: how the truth of a family--abuse, rape, hard work--might be hidden behind a veneer of gentility and religion; how poems, with their sometimes harsh messages might also be made to appear orderly; and how, for this poet, the "way home" includes looking squarely at "History, signs, salvation: things that hurt."
The poems in each of the book's three sections are excellent, made unique by the writer's intimate and colloquial voice. But, for me, the most amazing poems are the last eleven in the book, as if the poet couldn't bring herself to speak of her daughter Sarah's cystic fibrosis. This illness becomes chief among those "things that hurt" and redefine a family.
The first of these poems is "Story Problem," which introduces the daughter who, at twelve, is already doing the math, figuring out that "going by what / she's been through" she should be at least fourteen. In "Overnight," the poet-narrator cleans up after her daughter and an overnight friend who've been cooking and made a floury mess. Anger and silence reign, and the white flour in the daughter's hair becomes a portent of age, illness, disappearance.
"In Her Hospital Room" is the first to name the illness discovered when Sarah was seven months old. This poem recalls the new diagnosis, the new grief, "how unformed it was," implying that, in poetry, the author might attempt a way to pin down and examine her child's disease.
The illness becomes, in some ways, a sacred connection between mother and daughter. In "Permanent at Ruth Ann's," the beauty operator says to another customer that Sarah "don't want to be coming here. . . for the next forty years." The mother notices the shine in Sarah's eyes--tears or humor?--when she replies "Oh, yes I do." Both daughter and mother know that forty years, for Sarah, might be a miracle.
In "The Sweat Chloride Test Is One Hundred Percent Accurate and Cystic Fibrosis Is One Hundred Percent Fatal," the poet recalls the stunning confirmation of the diagnosis, how it came from a doctor chosen because she was a mother, because "she was from Texas / so her voice sounded a little like home," recalling the poet's family home, one that also hid abuse and threat behind a country accent. A lovely short poem, "Sixty-Five Roses," is a play off the "misnaming, the alias" of cystic fibrosis.
"How I Decided Not to Write a Sestina About Cystic Fibrosis" is a masterful look at how words define and confine us, how something like the story of a daughter's illness might be too big for any received form to contain but must be, like a poem, allowed to unfold organically. The poem looks at misunderstood words, important words, and the significance of last words, which in this poem is "cry." "CF Clinic, Children's Hospital," is a luminous poem that captures both the beauty and horror of suffering in memorable images and language. "Unknown Caller" is a found poem, copied from the automated appointment reminder that appeared on the author's answering machine, ending "To make a change, please press 2."
The two last poems in the collection don't attempt to make a change but to accept and mourn what is. "Crescendo, Decrescendo" compares coughing fits, the "quivering breath" of Sarah's violin playing, and the mother's cry, like Sarah's newborn cry when "they went ahead and cut the cord." The final poem, "How It Is," focuses on the reality of the daughter's body and her prognosis, how the mother longs to rock the now-grown woman as she did the baby, a rocking "not so different from the keening of grief."
Cleveland State University Poetry Center
These poems are a moving and memorable account of how parents suffer with their sick children, how illness shapes and reshapes a family and a life, how the smallest moments of joy are cherished, plucked out from the fabric of sickness and death. Although filled with grief and mourning, the poems at the end of this collection (like all the poems in this book) are not despairing but wonderfully determined and grippingly human.