We are traveling through dark at tremendous speeds. by Sarah Sadie. Lit Fest Press, 2016.
Reviewed by Erik Richardson
In Greek mythology, Penelope proceeded for three years to weave and unravel a shroud (for the death of her father-in-law). This was no zero-sum game, because in the process she managed to stay free of a house full of suitors who thought she was a thing that could be possessed, and she created the space in which the entire series of adventures in the Odyssey could take place. Sarah Sadie’s newest collection is just such—by weaving and unraveling in turns, she manages to free herself from the narrow roles into which women or poets are often confined, and she opens spoken and unspoken spaces into which events large and small take on new, mythic proportions:
Just two ways I know to slow time down. Hold it
in amber or weave it in rough green tapestries. Look. There we are,
Still traipsing that soggy forest, overfed river below.
All the tethers that bound me fast
I’ve loosed and freed myself at last
She has become a naiad, she goes on to say, and no longer lives inside the “pretty” and the “nice.” (It is helpful to remind ourselves that Penelope herself was the daughter of a naiad.)
But then, as deftly as she skirts one kind of magic—the mythic—by bending time or becoming a water nymph, Sadie dives and splashes into the everyday world of minivans and wrangling children onto the morning school bus. Just when we think we have captured her, she turns again to put on her golden corset from deep in the closet, standing “ablaze and breathless with memories and armor.”
One of the fascinating devices in the book is the tension created between the separate poems on each page and the one running across the bottom of the collection like a golden thread from that other mythic woman—Ariadne. Along that thread she shares with us such moments: “How can she paint a self-portrait. How can she paint anything but?” This thread shows us both the author as Undine, the water nymph who became mortal, and the writer, erasing and re-writing each doubtful line—the juxtaposition of the poet reflecting on a grand theme like death and the interrupting force of a daughter looking for a missing pair of boots.
At the heart of that interplay, it was a delight to find a layering quality to the work. As much as the collected poems themselves work together to cover up and reveal, one of the things that is revealed is the author as a mythic character herself. Those moments of unraveling, where she pulls back the veil to show us glimpses of the author, she is cast in the role of Penelope or Undine or a mother, weaving and unweaving the routines of daily life to open spaces for adventure by the people around her—husband, children, her own gravity-defying self.