By Laura Grace Weldon
Too often we spend an exorbitant amount of time earnestly trying to figure out answers to questions that we deem important. How do we go on when others are suffering? Why do we get sick? What is left of us when we are gone? It is no wonder that the title of this collection of poems is Blackbird, a bird which represents knowledge. All of this life seems like a game, one that often seems slightly ridiculous as illustrated in the poem “How to Play Blackbird,” where Weldon explains the rules of the game:
Without looking, place your finger on the page
and read whatever definition you touch.
The answer is code you must unravel.
This poem is the crux of the book, and seems strategically placed later in the collection to make the reader want to go back and think more about the theme of searching for answers and how that search guides us through life, both literally and spiritually. My favorite pieces in this collection are “Home Invasion,” “Moving Day,” and “What It Carries, Still.”
In Home Invasion, Weldon discusses carrying on when your life is being intruded upon. The narrator reminds herself to “Act normally. Breathe deeply.” because even though she is going about her normal routine, her life is being interrupted by what we find, in the last line, is a medical situation. This poem plays into the idea of questioning: how do we go about our routines when our lives have been upended? Weldon does not tell the reader what the diagnosis is , allowing us to fill in the blank because we have all dealt with illness at some level which makes this piece relatable.
In “Moving Day,” the question posed is what do we leave behind? The new people who are moving into the house that the narrator’s family is leaving are unaware of the living that unraveled before they arrived:
The new people don’t know
we tucked blessings behind these walls.
On bare beams the kids crayoned
bubble-face stick figures
and I wrote poems
in thick black marker, dizzied
by vapors that make the words permanent.
All of these treasures are a small part of what is left behind as seen in the last three lines, which remind us of what we really leave behind:
On each surface our fingerprints linger.
They are too light to pack
too heavy to carry.
This last image reminds us of the weight of our experiences, that an imprint of us will forever remain in the places we inhabited. Sometimes it is difficult to see what is left behind, other times the gift, like in the poem “What It Carries, Still,” is a large bright blue wheelbarrow, given by the narrator’s father-in-law as a housewarming gift, the only housewarming gift received.
In it we hauled firewood, dirt, rocks,
crinkled leaves topped with squealing toddlers.
It held a big block Dodge engine.
This list goes on, but what is imperative to know is that the wheelbarrow carried memories the way a person does, the way we do after someone we love is no longer with us. Later, Weldon writes, “I wish your father loves to see/ its wooden handles smoothed from use/ and what it carries, still/ on that one sure wheel.” Weldon has an impeccable ability to tie up the ideas in the last few lines of her poems in a way that makes the piece feel complete.
While these are my favorite pieces, Weldon does address more universal issues such as politics and the border dispute in a way that makes you consider why people hold certain beliefs. Overall this is a collection that accomplishes what it sets out to do, these pieces are a quest for knowledge, a quest that Weldon allows the reader to experience if they are willing to.