I have about 5,000 books in my personal library, so it’s rare for me to take the time to re-read any of them. However, I keep coming back to “Deflection” by Roberta Beary, published in 2015. Back then, my curiosity piqued with its title, because the word illustrates the pattern of my life, as with the lives of most of us. We veer off course, are sideswiped, our journey too often knotty.
With less and less time in my schedule, I can’t review books on my blog, though lately, I’ve made a couple of exceptions.
“Deflection” is a book of spare poetry that includes haibun and haiku and tanka sequences. Understatement is so beautifully executed in these poems that evoke so much emotion about subjects including: a failed marriage, caregiving and the deaths of loved ones, child abuse by a person close to the family, the author coming to terms with her son being Gay, the grandparents’ difficulty in dealing with their grandson’s homosexuality, and a relative’s drug addiction. There is a strong sense of the author’s resilience after loss when, for example, she moves forward to a second marriage.
Life’s adversities are expressed so simply, with depth and insight that touch our hearts. We very much respect Beary’s courage in writing the book. One can imagine that these poems of grief must have slapped her in the face while writing them, and will forever affect her when she re-reads them. They are so revealing about the human condition that readers will most certainly be moved.
Beary’s work is at its finest here, as her Japanese-style poetry is spare. “Deflection” is a collection filled with loss and the questioning of life– why things happen as they do.
The book isn’t all somber. For example, In “Summertime Blues,” a sequence, we find the single poem:
a carpenter bee gives me
the wrong kind of buzz
Individual haiku from the sequence “Caretaker II” are particularly moving:
mother somewhere between
here and there
day of blossoms
a nurse erases
In the latter haiku, anyone who has navigated the healthcare system with a parent or other relative comes to know the often impersonal nature or even callousness of personnel. Also, in this haiku, we are touched by the contrast between spring and the end of life.
Here’s a passage from the haibun “Nighthawks,” during the deathwatch of her mother:
i keep watch: rise and fall of out-of-breath beats. too soon it
comes. ebb tide.
autumn coolness enters a hand long held in mine
After her mother’s death, Beary expresses feeling off-balance in the title poem “Deflection,” another sequence:
all my weight on
the wrong foot
In dealing with child abuse, below is a passage from “Irish Twins,” with its powerful curt lines that skillfully illustrate Beary’s fear of abuse by a person close to the family. As a child, she escapes to an imaginary world during the episodes. (Although the poem ends with a haiku, the main passage below strikes the reader stylistically as being free verse.)
I know he is there.
I feel his weight.
Never on my side.
Always on the side she sleeps.
When the bedsprings sing their sad song
I fly away.
In “The Offer,” a haibun, she relives her visit later in life with the abuser who is now demented and helpless. It seems she arrives at his house to offer help, trying to put what happened in childhood behind her. However, she is unable to follow through:
. . .He needs a shave. He needs a haircut, He needs a
wash. This man who used to scare me to death.
Unable to handle his ravings, she departs in her car:
rear-mirror the stunted pine’s red robin
In the haiku sequence ,“Last Rites,” one would guess that she is reliving her father’s death. This is the sequence’s final poem:
day of the obit
inside his wallet
me at eleven
Further, she writes the haibun, “Memorare,” telling of her prayers for either a drug-addicted relative or someone close to her. A recounting of her recitation to the Virgin Mary for intercession on this person’s behalf, she wonders if prayers will be answered. She intersperses passages from the translated prayer that Catholics recite by rote in parochial school, with stream of consciousness, remembering what children were told to do by nuns to live an immaculate life:
. . . that never was it known that anyone who fled
to thy protection implored thy help or sought
thy intercession was left unaided patent leather
shoes are not allowed because boys must be
kept free from temptation . . .
the baby face
in my wallet
She skillfully captures this recitation without punctuation, not only for the effect of stream of consciousness, but to illustrate how parochial school children often pray, in a rambling way, without fully understanding the words.
Beary completes her collection trying to come to terms with yet another loss in the haibun “What Remains.” This focuses on someone else’s loss of a son, perhaps that of a sibling she was estranged from. She is regretful of the young person who drives carelessly and dies. She is haunted by what she was told transpired:
A police car sets its revolving light on a mother’s house. The shadow of two men appears.
The front door opens. One man
is a policeman. This is where the story ends. The other man is a
priest. This is where the story begins.
We praise Beary for having the courage to write this book that ultimately makes us feel less alone in life as a fellow traveler through adversity. It is a highly recommended work of art. Further, its stunning book cover is the creation of Kevin Beary, her brother.
Roberta Beary has also authored “The Unworn Necklace,” a William Carlos Williams finalist by the Poetry Society of America, 2008. She has been a haiku and haibun editor of numerous journals and books, and a poetry contest judge, in addition to having won several international poetry awards. Beary speaks worldwide and is a workshop leader on the art of Japanese-style poetry. Currently, she lives in Ireland. Her website is www.robertabeary.com
To contact Beary, you may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org