All Those Lilting Tongues, a work by Theresa Hamman
Could there be a poetry chapbook more apt for the moment and Me, Too movement than Theresa Hamman’s All Those Lilting Tongues? Hamman’s taut lines, “all you/ ever do/ is show me/ how your subzero/ lips curl/ around your canary/ teeth/ as you gnaw/ on an old steak bone” reveal menace and bullying while the woman in the poem “listens/ to the sing-song voices of our children/ chanting Frost” in “Winter People.” “It’s cold” in the house of this poem and in the relationships we decipher in the compressed lines of Hamman’s poetry. That chill extends over much of the verse in which, “It’s a waste of magic to wish someone dead.”
Perhaps the most poignant juxtaposition of violence and love is found in the poem “What Was Breaking” in the crystalized lines, “And the beer can explodes/ against the kitchen wall, / directly above the baby.”
Beautifully understated and metonymic, Hamman’s verse powerfully and uniquely suggests rather than states: “A neighbor’s truck/ ignited for no reason” in her poem “Aftermath: Divorce Finalized.” Anger has disappeared from the verse, however, as we sense the poet’s persona has pulled back, no longer a participant but, rather, a witness and chronicler of life.
Beneath the threat of violence is the sorrow over what was lost. Loss is a motif that extends throughout the chapbook. From the sorrow expressed in “The Day My Father Died” in which the poet’s persona roams “the cemetery/ searching for the best place, one with a view” to the “room sighing with dust”… “before all this whiting” in the poem “All Hues,” Hamman’s terrain is emotional devastation: “He only tells her love/ is suicide, and she/ holds the note/ he wrote all over her body” in the poem “Love is Suicide.” Even the sunset “has lost your name” in Hamman’s poem “Without.”
There is a rebirth, a hope, but it is not without peril and scars: “a fracture/ one dead eye/ perches on a high/ cliff watches/ the plates shift” in “Rebirth.” New rivers are created but not before “you feel/ the way your back/ fissures open/ blisters—/ oiling out/ all black.”
As we drive away with the protagonist, we can still hear the thunder, are aware of the lightning, before the “lilac blooms blew/ away, before…we laughed/ while the yellow desert ate us.” There is something lost in “Driving the Desert with Zep” but never forgotten: “We knew how to buzz once…before we became sulfured honey.”