Decennia by Jan Chronister

Reviewed by Murphy McCoy

The most beautiful thing about life is that no two people experience the same story. Those lucky enough to live a long life can look back and see the inconsequential moments that became monumental. Jan Chronister looks at these events in her past in her collection of poems, Decennia (Truth Serum Press, 2020). Splitting her life into five sections, Chronister examines in detail the small quiet moments that make up her life.

The collection confidently straddles the line between autobiography and public history, including topics such as JFK, Vietnam, and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In the opening poem “Exploration,” Chronister establishes the mood of the entire collection “I launch rockets/explore the space/inside my head.” As a poet she seems unafraid to immortalize her pain or her happiness, balancing the sometimes cruel nature of life with the lightheartedness that makes life worth living. Decennia moves fluidly through the stages of  her life, yet the reader, like the author, is never left on solid ground, never allowed to remain entirely comfortable. In “I Never Eat Strawberry Sundaes” she recounts the time her grandfather slaughtered pigs, changing forever the way she looks at strawberry syrup.

The small space

fills, overflows

the floor drain. He stands

in blood halfway up his boots…..

Grandma/ serves us ice cream,

fresh strawberry juice runs

down mounds of white,

pools in my mind.

Time moves on, the reader travels from childhood to young adulthood. Witnessing humorous moments such as in “Object Lesson,” where she describes the challenges of making it through a church service knowing dessert awaits them upon their return home. The collection becomes less brutal in its observation as time passes. The latter sections display a completeness absent in earlier sections; grit is replaced with wonder. In “Observatory” she describes serenely her visions of her future husband walking home at night.

Someday we’ll be married

and all I need is

a window to watch from

while I wait for you

and the stars

Artfully crafted, Decennia is wonderfully and honestly written. Complex and rich, the collection finds a way to both comfort and haunt its reader. Any reader will find themselves returning for more, savoring the straightforward unapologetic storytelling of Jan Chronister.

Murphy McCoy is a graduate student at Mount Mary University where she studies Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is from Waukesha, Wisconsin and is an alum of Carroll University. She plans to become a Marriage and Family Therapist and read indefinitely.

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