There are 48 poems in this volume (the author's third full-length collection), divided into three sections.  The author's first book, “The Ninety-Third Name of God” introduced us to her family and especially to her diagnosis--inflammatory breast cancer--the disease discovered in 2004 during her pregnancy, the disease that claimed her life in August, 2018 when she was forty-nine-years old.

In her second collection, “I Watched You Disappear”  Silver's poems invited us to accompany her on her journey through treatment, anger, despair, determination, and faith. This third collection (her penultimate) continues the author's beautifully written illness narrative, again presenting moments of joy and of despair, and always of hope.


Silver places her title poem, "From Nothing" (pg. 1), before Section I as an epigraph to the entire collection. "Each death I witness makes me more my own," she writes, and although the poem sees "muscle shredded" and "bone sheared," the poem's last lines lift, as do many of Silver's poems, into hope and faith: "and my molecules will vault, emerging. / From darkening days, the light will surge and flee." Section I begins with poems of memory--"Summers in Vermont" with her family (pg. 5)--and "Coincidence," when her sister's child is born on the same day that Silver holds her breath and presses her "shorn chest" to an X-ray machine (pg. 7). The memories here are of family moments, both the joyful and those tinged with such "darkening days." In "Luzerne," she recalls when time was "consigning" her to such darkness, but two things saved her: her son, the poet's hand touching his "damp blond hair," and poetry, "offering itself like a pair of velvet shoes" (pg.13).  Silver develops the idea of poetry as a special entity, a gift that enables her to walk forward in her journey, in "Raven" (pg. 15). She imagines a raven lifting her, holding her, and then setting her down in her home, where, she says, "dawn drove a pen into my hand."  This sense of urgency and necessity pervades all of Silver's poems, as if she has been commanded to write her story.

Section II begins in "Anguish" (pg. 19) a stunning poem about the loss of her first child, a daughter, but the section ends in joy with "After a Favorable PET Scan" (pg. 38).  It might be difficult to find another poem by any author that offers such resounding relief and happiness.  This poem, especially, speaks to how terrible every test is for those who are suffering, for those whose test results might mean more medication, more surgery, or less time to live.  The celebratory release felt by patients when results bring good news must be a special kind of joy: "Oh world, I will give you all my love. / I will race like a child through the fields, / I will chase off the unkindness of ravens. / My words will grow thick as marshes, / sheltering nests in salty steams."  The poems in Section II are some of the most beautiful and moving poems in this collection.  See especially "Tenebrae" (pg. 21), a plea for life; "Poise" (pg. 26), a rant against giving in to cancer; "Snow White" (pg. 30), a poem of mourning for self and others; and "Four Prayers for Forgiveness" (pg. 34-35), a poem that turns illness into beauty: "--the scattered lumps in my lungs / become church domes roofed in green mosaics, /  my bones' fissures fill in with grass-green yarn. / . . . I open my eyes and all is golden."

Section III seems to present a corrective reaction to the joy expressed in the final poem in Section II.  The poems in this last section are short, mostly one stanza, a catalog of things that are broken, cracked, ripped, or chipped.  The warning that nothing lasts forever is implied in poems such as "Partings" (pg. 44) and "Woman with a Hole in Her Stocking" (pg. 45), in "Red Never Lasts" (pg. 47) and "Autumn" (pg. 57).  Yet, as always in Silver's poems, the warning is tempered by the beauty of her words and the depth of her insight into what it is to suffer over the course of an illness that has remissions and recurrences, that sees the body changed and relationships altered.  In "Ideal Speech" (pg. 58), she writes "Listen to the Holy Ghost. She blows through you, / she blows her poems right through you."  Even when days seem darkest, the ideal speech for Silver is poetry, and she is the "you" though which the Holy Ghost speaks these auricles.  In the book's final poem, "Three Roses" (pg. 59), the author once again works her spell, turning illness into beauty and despair into hope.  "Where only my scar line remains, a red rose blooms. / Luscious, full, so open that if it dropped a single petal, / it would not be as lovely as it is this very moment."  And in the poem's final lines, "Lay her hands on my chest--here, I give it to you. / Feel your palm on my skin heat and spark," What is the "it" she gives us?  I believe that Silver invites us, as Whitman did, to merge with her and to live within her words, which are her flesh, the poems she writes and then gives us to read and ponder.


In my annotation of Silver's second collection, "I Watched You Disappear," I wrote that her poems might be difficult for some to read: "These poems are beautifully crafted, often primal, and they touch the deepest reaches of personal illness and the shadow of mortality.  Readers who have breast cancer or who have family or friends living with breast cancer, might find these poems difficult to read--others under the same circumstances might find them difficult and yet, at the same time, essential."  The poems in this collection can be as raw as they are hauntingly beautiful.  But, as do her other books, this one again opens to us a world apart, one we cannot enter unless we share this author's diagnosis and illness trajectory.  If we are caregivers or care receivers, if we suffer or we watch loved ones suffer, these poems plunge us into emotions that we ignore at our peril. 


Louisiana State University Press

Place Published

Baton Rouge



Page Count