While in Chicago, I picked up the collection Sad Math by Sarah Freligh. Standing in the bookstore Women and Children First, my first thought was Holy Shit. I couldn’t wait to buy this collection, and I had an especially hard time putting it down to search for others in the store. The first poem I read is the first poem in the collection, and it’s titled “Starting With An Old Photo Of My Mother And Ending On A Hill.” The first line reads “She is red-lipped and slender in a shirt- / waist dress, bun of hair hidden / under a white hat” (lines 1-3). The use of color, the descriptions, and the line breaks are well timed, powerful, and evocative. The poem, which is in a lot of ways a character sketch of the speaker’s deceased mother, ends just as powerfully:
They’re as blank as grief can be, the emptiness
of a parking lot ten minutes after the shift’s
let out, a dandelion in the cracked
asphalt waving at the trail of exhaust
from the last car to leave (lines 29-33).
Damn. I needed to put it down; otherwise, I would have started sobbing in the store. What’s amazed me in the past week while reading this collection is how strong the speaker is. The voice throughout demands to be heard, and it doesn’t disappoint. Many of poems offer readers a powerful commentary about womanhood in a stark and striking way: “When he slipped / his tongue into my mouth, / I could feel the old dog / of his heart rear up and tug / at its leash” (lines 15-19). There is not a poem in this collection that I don’t love. Each one is more powerful than the next, funny and daring. In just three sections (70 pages total), these poems will hit home for anyone who has ever experienced loss, sympathized with womanhood, and experienced sexual abuse.
I have to also add something about the book cover and title. The title is what originally brought me to the collection. Sad math? What? Freligh doesn’t reveal where the title comes from until the last poem in the book, which leaves you wanting more (I’m greedy. Give me all the poems). The book cover grabs your attention because it is both whimsical and nostalgic.
Photo courtesy of Moon City Press.
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