Review by Tasslyn Magnusson
Released in late April 2019, The Dancing Clock by Nancy Gerber is a collection of related essays on the passage of time viewed through a gorgeous prism of her personal experience. They are intimate and profound and jump from the biggest questions—how humans survive trauma—to the next biggest—how we become more than the roles assigned for us, mother, daughter, wife, friend. Gerber suggests in the opening Prologue we do this when we acknowledge our mortality and dance with life. She asks us to join her in acceptance and through that, in a new sense of peace and power to create. “It’s useless to flee, so I take time by the hand. Together we make marks on the dazzling white page” (9).
With essays that are meditations on the ordinary and poems that dive deep into the losses associated with time, Gerber is intimate and revelatory. In “The Aqueduct,” she charts the loss of her children’s childhood, explaining, “Years collapse, / tears carry / a flood of memory,” (40). We really do not, Gerber reminds us, have a choice but to accept the passage of time and the transformation of lives. “Every day is precarious and fragile as we dance with time, a most unrelenting, demanding partner,” (84). But it is that dance, Gerber reminds us, that is the purpose and the meaning. Gerber reflects on her mother’s dementia and writes: “Loss upon loss. She had to live with the knowledge of all those losses, with the awareness that were more on the way,” (33).
Gerber bravely delves deep into those losses, reminding us what her mother told her, “letting go is the hardest part,” (75). Charting them, Gerber’s essays say over and over, is the act of living. She says she’s a “seeker, a collector, and a grazer,” interested in our “desire to cling to life, to navigate the rushing waters that threaten to capsize us,” (90). As she collects the evidence of her own life, when she nearly was capsized or tossed by waves, she teaches us that it is through those memories and the act of writing we truly live.
Particularly powerful were Gerber’s struggles to be in connection with her mother. “The other day I looked in the mirror and saw my mother’s face,” (97). Gerber’s mother died of a dementia related illness and Gerber was a primary caretaker (for her father as well). But the moments in these essays where Gerber recognizes the push and pull with her mother are microcosms of how she’s come to acknowledge the passage of time. “I spent most of my life trying to run away from my mother only to learn she is always with me,” (98). The same could be said of time—we spend most of lives trying to outrun, outwit, and trick time. When we acknowledge our own mortality and see the dance with time as living; when we see the “prisms gather all the colors in the room and send them spinning around,” (103) then we can experience joy. We cannot stop the spinning, but we can finally look at the colors.
Nancy Gerber’s previous books are A Way Out of Nowhere: Short Stories, Losing a Life: A Daughter’s Memoir of Caregiving, and Fire and Ice: Poetry and Prose. Fire and Ice was named a Notable Book in Poetry in the Shelf Unbound Indie Books Competition.
The Dancing Clock: Reflections on Family, Love and Loss by Nancy Gerber
Shanti Arts Publishing 2019, 14.95,
Tasslyn Magnusson received her MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN. Her poems have been published in Room Magazine and Red Weather Online. Her chapbook, Defining, is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She lives with her husband, two kids, and two dogs in Prescott, Wisconsin.