Love & A Loaded Gun
by Emily Rose Cole
Minerva Rising Press, 2017
"All women are made of muscle and trauma…" So says Black Widow in the poem "Black Widow Explains," and these words ring true as the conclusion to this slim and powerful collection of persona poems, Love & A Loaded Gun
(Minerva Rising Press, 2017) by Emily Rose Cole
. The voices in this collection — recognizable names from myth, history, and popular culture — speak in unfamiliar and arresting ways through Cole's interpretations. Sharp things and blood. Escapes and broken glass. The drinking of ash. The body's pleasures and its broken places. All are explored through these many voices, but not one of the voices is passive. These are women who choose their own dangers, women who own and manage their choices with grit, no matter what paths they may unfurl.
Demeter and Persephone are popular figures for persona, but Cole imbues them with new layers of humanity. Demeter takes pleasure in punishing her wayward daughter: "The bees, too long overwintered,/still beat their wings double-time to preserve their queen./I would take them/as I've taken everything else[…]except you always/loved bees/& I wanted you not to have them." Persephone, in turn, knows that her relationship to her mother has been forever altered, both women changed by their choices: "This is how she greets me:/shoulder jutted to the doorjamb,/fists bolted to her hips.//Here I am: a daughter: loved/& rejected all at once." Other mythological women are given to us in new ways as well — Leda declaring her need to "be land-locked, waterless…” and The Snow Queen promising "a palace where nothing shatters, nothing/molders, nothing ever melts." Cole takes on not only these long-standing figures of myth, but also the modern mythology of celebrity.
Two of the strongest poems in the collection speak from the perspectives of Judy Garland and her on-screen counterpart Dorothy Gale. In "Judy Garland Speaks of her Early Career," the poem begins with "When I was three, my mother caught a bluebird/and stitched her into my throat while I slept, seam//of sinew sewn to wing." From there, Garland learns to sing from the bird "mimicking/her muffled trills, the blue croon of her warbling," but at sixteen rebels, "pried those careful stitches out/with a rust-edged steak knife, and stained my shoes red." Cole's seamless inclusion of iconic images from The Wizard of Oz
— the bluebird, the red shoes — gives us a glimpse into the actress's difficult journey and her "own precious, blue voice." Later, in "Dorothy Gale, After the Funeral," Cole turns her pen to Garland's most famous character. Dorothy is mourning Aunt Em, who "fell asleep/in the earth & now I'm still as a beating heart./I sleep in a bedroll that swaddles me like batwings/& I keep the radio tuned to the weather." This Dorothy has "a blue mouth,&$34; echoing the blue voice from the Garland poem. A lost Dorothy waits for a new storm, speaks to it "like a mare/I used to ride when I was young./I tell it, I don't want to be here.
/I tell it, We are the same kind of runaway.
//I tell it, Take me back.
" Both poems tenderly render these women as damaged yet willing to do whatever is necessary to return to truer versions of themselves.
Elsewhere, Cole gives us women who exhibit control and agency even in relationships where men have historically exerted the outward power. Guinevere pleasures herself after another night with an impotent Arthur; the Target Girl welcomes the knife thrower, knows where he's aiming and opens her mouth. Superman pleads with Lois Lane, who "lowers [her] teeth/ to hiss his name" in bed, not to call him Superman. Pharaoh's wife chides her husband as she buries her son: "Husband, hook open your eyes./See where your crooked hand has led us." Even Bonnie knows after her first drink with Clyde that they "would die with lead in our mouths."
Throughout this collection, Cole gives us portraits of women who refuse to fit the molds into which they have been poured either by myth or history. These women are adept with both love and a loaded gun, unafraid to use either one to get what they want.
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