I was first introduced to Roberta Beary’s poems during my MFA Residency and it was love at first sight. What drew me to her work was the ease and simplicity with which she writes. Just the right words, no more, no less. Her work is a nod to haiku traditions with a modern Beary twist. I admire how she gets to the heart of a subject without the need to dither around, embellish, or build it up. Her writing is not aloof or abstract; it’s smart, pure and clear. Beary’s style of formatting varies a bit, but the bulk of her haiku and haibun are presented in lower case font. I’m not an expert on form, but this seems to lend itself to haiku tradition. She does vary style depending on form, but the change does not influence the impact of each piece, so I assume this to be her preference. Reading Beary’s work as a beginning MFA student was an inspiration and a boost for a short poem lover and writer like myself.
Deflection is a concise collection of twenty-five interwoven pieces that deal with a mother’s declining health, subsequent death and other life events connected to these moments. The first piece in this collection to wow me is the first two lines of Around Here:
things are starting to slip. the daily dog
walk is a flat-out lie as is any form of
Right from the start, Beary charms us with humor: blunt, truthful, real. The speaker and the reader are one in this moment. Our attention is captured and continuing through the prose, absorbing busy details leading to the heart of it all, the reason this moment is so poignant:
mother sleeps on and off
on and off
we talk hospice
It’s the juxtaposition of tenderness and truth that strikes me most. Bringing Up Baby is the next to pull us in with tension only to leave us with an ache in our hearts:
i watch the two of them on the loveseat my own private screening
my own private screening
heads so close together there’s no room for me.
there’s no room for me.
There is a journey occurring here that weaves its way through family history in bits and pieces. Each reveal hurts and hugs a little. In Free-Floating, Beary wakes us from a dead sleep to find ourselves disoriented with the speaker, who can’t reconcile the time and place they’ve woken up in. It reminds me of the final days caring for my Father when he suffered from night dementia. Another Beary truth so eloquently conveyed:
my heartbeat wakes me. it’s 2 a.m. is the baby okay? I run to check…
no white crib…no changing table…no goodnight moon…
my mind computes.
These poems chronicle the privilege of walking beside a loved one who will soon exit this world, all the while anticipating and reconciling the impending loss. With that comes an examination of the lives we share. Within the collection, these revelations come incrementally. Irish Twins reveals one such moment, an out-of-body experience ignited by stress:
When the bedsprings sing their sad song
I fly away. Up to the ceiling. My sister is already there.
Together we hold hands. Looking down we see our bodies.
We are not moving. We are still as the dead.
At a certain point in most of our lives, we have to deal with the death of a loved one on an intimate level: as caretaker, spectator, or faithful sidekick. Deflection drives us through the serpentine of emotions that come from this experience. Fear, dedication and grief processed each step along the way. Beary proves to be a master custodian of these universal sentiments, carving a path to endurance. For those who have traveled this road, are about to, or have yet to, I recommend Deflection wholeheartedly for its truth, grace and compassion.
Roberta Beary. Deflection. Accents Publishing, 2015, 27pp., ISBN 978-1-936628-33-9. $8 USD from www.accents-publishing.com