Review by Carla Panciera
Remember when you discovered that Disney hadn’t gotten it right with their version of fairy tales? How they’d left out the rape of Sleeping Beauty, for example, or the fact that it was Snow White’s mother who sent her seven year old (!) off to be butchered by the huntsman? Well, Mary Lou Buschi’s second collection of poetry, Paddock, is a contemporary reminder: women face many dangers, whether they are the mythical protagonists who journey throughout the pages of this collection, or the very real women who will recognize their own stories of loss and trauma here.
This is a collection that is part fairy tale, part myth, part allegory. There is a Greek chorus and a section of epistles. The world Buschi imagines reveals a creative mind at work, re-envisioning several genres at once.
The premise is deceptively simple: Two girls set off to find a mother. But not their mother, necessarily. And not in the world as we know it. Their path begins in woods “where girls can die/a thousand deaths/only to emerge more beautiful” (8). Ominous threads persist in these otherworldly places full of mulberry mud pies, toad lilies and asters, a paddock full of goats. The chorus describes a dream with “a walnut tree bending toward a Magnolia . . . A canvas, the size of the sun,” until, however, “the canvas is lost, and the sky is a dry socket” (29). The imagery is arresting here and immerses the reader in an experience that is both wondrous and terrifying.
Whether these girls are the imagined children of a woman, her as-yet-unborn children, or children who did not survive, their search for a mother forms the book’s core. They acknowledge the obstacles they face along the way, console one another with stories, pause briefly to homestead, building “parents out of branches,/leaves, and bluestone,” (11). The solace is that they are together in their quest.
Their journey ends, perhaps ironically, at the sea. The book’s final section recounts the suffering of several women: the bride who is pushed to her death, the fifteen year old whose leg is scared “running away from a man with a rifle” (45), the woman who “watches her friend carry/the dead child for a week” (53). In one of the final addresses to their imagined mother, one girl says, “You have been trying to love us into your world” (69), but the message is clear: there is no world, real or imagined, where grief does not exist, where women can be safe.
Paddock by Mary Lou Buschi
Lily Poetry Review Books, 2021, $21 paperback
ISBN Number 173478699X
Carla Panciera’s collection, Bewildered, received AWP’s 2013 Grace Paley Short Fiction Award. She has also published two collections of poetry: One of the Cimalores (Cider Press) and No Day, No Dusk, No Love (Bordighera). A second collection of short stories is forthcoming from Loom Press in 2023. The recipient of a Mass Cultural Council Grant in prose, Carla is a high school English teacher from Rowley, MA.