Everywoman Her Own Theology: An Online Companion

“The Crack in Everything: Metaphor and Love in the Poetry of Alicia Ostriker” by Terry Lucas

Alicia Ostriker champions metaphor, not only as one of many poetic tropes, but also as the mother nexus to which her figurative language adheres. She weighs in with Aristotle, for whom metaphor is “the intuitive perception of similarity in dissimilars” and “the one thing that cannot be learned from others” (1479). But, for Ostriker, metaphor is more: “It is a sign of love, it is what language uses to show that the world is full of connections” (“Eros and Metaphor”). These ideas are never more enacted in her work than in The Crack in Everything, and never more epitomized than in the poem “The Figure of Metaphor,” which serves as a primer for the entire collection (55).

The poem’s opening stanzas are replete with rhizomes of metaphor—linguistic connectors to other images and ideas that may bypass a cursory inspection. These lateral roots quietly, yet persistently, spread underground as tentacles of new growth, which erupt later in the poem and throughout the work.

"The Figure of Metaphor"

What a trip, the morning I first saw it
Printed on sides of vans in downtown Athens,
METAPHOROS. Invented here, a local product
Like olives and octopus, what cannot

Be taught, says Aristotle, what genius
Has to discover, the world’s uncanny oneness.
In unlike lands it patches parts together,
Bears its own future fruit, a pregnant mother,

The “trip,” the “vans,” “Athens,” the “olives,” and the “octopus” are all buds on “the world’s uncanny oneness.” Ostriker continues to construct her conceit.

Demonstrates when we mount Acropolis

Up footsore steps, jostled and shoved by more
Hasty sightseers, its deep antiquity—
Pericles built these piles to Athens’ glory,

Her gleam, so that her democratic harbor
Might welcome tourists from all Asia Minor
Afloat with awe and obols. The idea
Flew; the town boomed as a cultural center,

Meaning a place where one robs foreigners;
Where, conquered by force of arms, one may
Instruct the vulgar victor to surrender
His brutish manners, and by arts and letters

Perceive the gods as motive’s metaphors…

And there it is, the first fruit of the spadework done thus far: the figure of metaphor itself rising within the poem as a metaphor—a metaphor for metaphor itself. The gods are to Greek civilization what metaphor is to poetry. You no more have poetry without metaphor than Ancient Greece without the pantheon. But Ostriker is not content to merely state her case and support it with worthy examples (although she does that quite well in the ensuing stanzas, imploring Persephone, Poseidon, Odysseus, Eros, Zeus, and Pan, to name a few). She relentlessly broadens her connections not only by using metaphor, but also by writing with what Peter Campion calls a metaphorical sense.

By “metaphorical sense” I mean a type of inventiveness that can appear even when metaphor seems absent. It’s not merely a knack for crafting comparisons without “like” or “as,” but the ability to establish far-reaching connections, as well as disjunctions, in consciousness . . . to examine and re-examine motifs [that] begin to constellate a whole climate of thought and feeling as amplitudinous as any symbol system.  Metaphorical sense always implies the vision of a larger shape of being. (228-229)

One such larger shape of being is embedded in stanzas 7-8.

Poseidon greets the viewer with an arm
Unimpeachably awesome, a mature
Male torso, an unconquerable gaze
Designed to make Odysseus look both ways

Before a crossing—Ocean as a man
I study carefully all afternoon
From every gorgeous storm-reflecting angle
Until ejected by museum guards…

Wedged in between the objective limestone realities of the statues of Poseidon and Odysseus, the poet has grown stalks of subjective history nurtured from the canon. In “an arm / Unimpeachably awesome, a mature / Male torso…I study carefully all afternoon / From every gorgeous storm-reflecting angle,” we hear echos of Whitman’s “that lot of me and all so luscious” (49) and “no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones” (43)—the same lines, among others, that a thirteen-year-old Alicia Ostriker devoured and later would metabolize into her own poetry (Dancing 26-27).

With a masterful hand (and eye and ear), Ostriker nurtures images toward nuanced vistas that, although wide, do not exhaust possibilities, but rather are true samples of a landscape whose elements can be utilized for good or ill. Thus, Poseidon’s “unimpeachably awesome arm,” morphs into repressive government in “The Eighth & Thirteenth” (The Crack 29), his “unconquerable gaze” into imperialism in “The Russian Army Goes Into Baku” (27), and his look[ing] both ways reminds one of Whitman’s elusive play (with “I” and “the other I” and “you”) in “I believe in you, my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you, / And you must not be abased to the other” (Dancing 27). As blossoms forth from the best poets, all of this (and more) rises from the ground of Ostriker’s metaphorical sense.

Although most of the time Ostriker does not “tell us,” but prefers to “show us,” she ends the poem by singing out the very word that, for her, is metaphor’s goal. 

What sweetness and light? Now moth wings dive
For streetlamps as we make for our hotel,
As up the boulevard a vehicle
Stamped METAPHOROS beeps at us; we wave;

As from each jukebox tenors croon of love.

If love, for Ostriker, is the destination of metaphor, the journey must take its traveler through everything—all experiences and endeavors of all forms of existence—with the purpose of discovering inherent connections, language offering itself as a catalyst for the reader to become one with “the other” and, standing apart, to be defined by it as well. In The Crack In Everything, Ostriker works through a plethora of material, shining her searchlights of elucidation, and aiming her stage lights of entertainment onto characters as disparate as a campus security guard unlocking a professor’s office door, dogs chasing sticks on a beach, a child in a high chair rejecting a spoonful of spinach, a transparent, boneless jellyfish, and a glassful of zinnias on a kitchen table—all with a therapeutic dose of humor, often walking stately up to the poem’s podium, and then dancing offstage in the final lines. She focuses in on details as small as subatomic neutrinos, and pans out to views as capacious as “our cerulean globe spin[ning] through its void” (74). She reaches as far back as ancient Rome and Greece, even back before them to isolated, wandering tribes that preceded the Old Testament nation of Israel, while still vividly recalling last “Saturday night” where “every adolescent body hot / Enough to sweat it out on the dancefloor // Is a laboratory” (34). And, as Whitman celebrated all that was America, Ostriker celebrates all that is human, non-human, sacred, profane, full of flaws, warts and all—the cracked existence that belongs to everyone—not in spite of its imperfections, but precisely because of them. Like the rivers of lava that lap the planet at the borders of its tectonic plates, these cracks connect us, and give us life.  Ostriker’s celebration and lament are wound inseparably together in “Marie at Tea” (5).

You remember the extremes
Wittgenstein says
There is no such thing as ordinary

My heart aches, literally, and a drowsy
So I wonder if I will die soon
Sometimes I am so tired
I want to

You remember the extremes

The poem proceeds with dark narratives wrapped around unbearable feelings. The first tells of the death of her spouse’s father—how she and her husband rode a train to London, where they listened to a Joan Baez record of “The Great Silkie,” how “he threw / His head in [her] lap and sobbed, [she] / Never saw him weep again although / [She had] sobbed and yowled countless times / On his chest his lap his shoulder” (lines 19-23). The scene abruptly switches to the poet giving birth for the first time, her husband in the labor room helping her breathe, reading a childbirth textbook that frightened him so much with the five hundred pages of possible complications that he wanted to tell the doctor “if he had a choice / To let the baby go and save his wife.” “I have always felt,” she writes, “This to be touching” (lines 39-42). Finally she recalls a conversation over lunch, begging him to quit “fooling around” with a young girl, only to have him refuse (lines 43-47). She concludes:

         …You remember
The extreme things
Not the normal
Uneventful moments
Years decades
Food sex
Screams laughter
Betrayal conciliation
A day at the races
A night at the opera
Everything slightly cracked
Then afterward you say:
We’re married this long
Because we are both too stubborn
To admit we made a mistake,
Which is a good line
And a workable disguise

The truth is that you do not know the truth

The kernel of death
Life wraps itself around
Like chamois cloth
Around a diamond

Cold at the center
Precious no doubt because
Inhumanly old, that
Is my idea of
Love, of marriage, the

The narratives of impermanence in Marie at Tea arc from Section I into multiple vignettes of death and dying in The Book of Life (39) (the title of both Section II and its only poem), with “This is the year your mother finally / Went blind, stamping and screaming I can see / Perfectly well and This is your fault,” (lines 19-21), “It is the year your favorite uncle died, / He who taught you your first Jewish jokes / And called America hopeless, politicians / In bed with profiteers,” (lines 24-26), “The year your daughter left for Oregon / To escape you, while you cramp over with dread / Of crowded arteries that could / Any time worsen—” (lines 29-31), “We know the myth of the artist dying young / Consumptive, crazy, / The lyric poet melting back / Like a jack-in-the-pulpit in April woods,” (lines 44-47), and “We know too the myth of our self-destructiveness / The slide into a needle, the cave of fur,  / The singer burned alive like his smashed guitar,” (lines 51-53).

The problem, says Ostriker, is not knowing which story is ours, “which script applies to us,” (line 65). And then, of course, it is not death itself that is dreaded, but what leads to it: “When we think, not of death / But of the decay before it—before us— / I ask you at high noon, who doesn’t flinch?” (v, lines 1-3). This last passage proleptically envisions the aftermath of life-threatening disease in Section III in the poem “After Illness” (50). Listen in on the poet’s wrestling conversation with herself over the dilemma of how to spend time in bed recovering, and listen to how her inner dialogue blurs the distinctions between disease and love and writing, as she attempts to answer the question: “What does my inner mind have on its mind?”

If I say, I’ll use this solitude
To discover my true feeling about my mastectomy,
To do the mourning I’ve been postponing,

Or if I think, I’ll surrender myself
To the adoration I feel for X,
Which I prudently control when he’s nearby,

Then that’s not it! 
Whatever I can consciously intend
By definition isn’t it!

Hush. Quiet the mind. Leap motionless.
The Tao that can be spoken
Is not the true Tao.

Perhaps I must surrender
The need to write, to metabolize experience
Into poems. Come on, my guides,

Presences, do you think that’s impossible?
Do you think it is desirable?
I’m not going to decide this by myself.

Look, I’m just going to turn
over on my back, on the blanket, nothing
between here and the sky,

What I want
Is to listen, what I want
Is to follow instructions.

Again, Ostriker moves beyond the simple use of metaphor to a vision created from her metaphorical sense. This is supported by the use of craft, exemplified in the following enjambments where, in both instances, the second lines serve to take the first ones in new directions, and to subvert our expectations about what will appear in the third: “I’ll use this solitude…to do the mourning I’ve been postponing // Or if I think I’ll surrender myself / To the adoration I feel for X,” (lines 1,3, 4-5), and “Perhaps I must surrender / The need to write, to metabolize experience / Into poems” (lines 13-15a). The result is that mourning (over physical disease) is tied to the attraction of another person, and both are tied to the act of writing.

But craft alone cannot achieve, in the mind of Ostriker, that which connects “the blanket, nothing / Between here and the sky,” the ineffable “wordless hush” seemingly for which her poems are striving. “That which can be consciously intended” (the poet’s desire to mourn for her mastectomy, her desire for an inappropriate lover, and—am I too presumptuous to assert?—the indirect comparison of simile), does not adequately express the “inner mind.” Like the lover who seeks completion, satisfaction is impossible “by one[self].” What is needed is the voice of the beloved (“I’m not going to decide this by myself”): “What I want / Is to listen, what I want / Is to follow instructions.” And those instructions in Ostriker’s vision are from language itself—a language that arises not from her own thinking—those “eighteen-wheelers / On the brain’s interstate highways,” those “eels / In the neural nets,” but from a place even she cannot quite articulate, a place of unnamed “guides” and “presences.” This language, created inside her own body, almost of its own accord by the consumption of the language of other poets, is what will tie together the experience of the imminent loss of one’s own flesh and the loss of a love affair that might never happen—and both of these with all loss and all gain.

“After Illness” is an ideational, as well as a prosodic, precursor to the climax of The Crack in Everything: “The Mastectomy Poems” (85). The series is a master class in metaphor, the substance of its language being at once gorgeous, erotic, ambiguous, tragic and comedic, and the substance of its ideas being as significant as any dealt with by any poet of any era: death and its attendant physical and emotional pain. The poem around which the others adhere is “Mastectomy” (88).


             for Alison Estabrook

I shook your hand before I went.
Your nod was brief, your manner confident,
A ship’s captain, and there I lay, a chart
Of the bay, no reefs, no shoals.
While I admired your boyish freckles,
Your soft green gown with the oval neck,
The drug sent me away, like the unemployed.
I swam and supped with the fish, while you
Cut carefully in, I mean
I assume you were careful,
They say it took you an hour or so.

The metaphors in this passage, as well as in others, serve both to unite the things compared and to provide a distance, a separation between them. This process is not a neat or tidy one—just as in the case of lovers, the goal is to lose identity and to further define it.

Comparing the surgeon to a ship’s captain, and the body of her patient to “a chart / Of the bay, no reefs, no shoals,” sheds light on both “the thing[s] to be described,” the metaphrands—in this instance, the surgeon, the patient—and “the thing[s] used to elucidate it [them],” the metaphiers —the captain, the chart (Jaynes 48). This surgeon (like a ship’s captain who has navigated numerous bodies of water) is as experienced in performing surgery on the patient as the captain is charting her course through the bay. But notice how the unspoken images of the surgeon and the waiting body of the patient lend meaning to the work of the ship captain, who surgically navigates through the open body of water lying before her. This unspoken gesture, this holding back, is what adds to the eroticism of the passage that would be spoiled with simile. The further details of “no reef, no shoals” provides more interest as we approach the images: this body, this procedure, is uncomplicated, straightforward—an additional reason for the “manner confident.” In addition, the choice of “bay” as the body of water rather than ocean or river or lake (each of which would give a different slant to the roles of captain, chart, physician, patient), connotes a place one returns to:  home, hearth, safe-haven—the consummate locus of nurture.

Ostriker continues this “hustling of metaphor” to explore the elements of erotic fusion and separation (“Eros and Metaphor”). Line 7 (“The drug sent me away, like the unemployed.”), ostensibly provides distance, while lines 8-9a (“I swam and supped with the fish, while you / Cut carefully in…”), bring a return of intimacy. A closer look reveals that, like a fractal, which exhibits the same design properties regardless of size, when smaller units of these lines are examined, poles both of repulsion and attraction are present. While the drug sends the narrator away to another location, it is not a place devoid of interaction with other life forms. And while there is opportunity for, and actual participation in, swimming and supping, the speaker is still separate from them, evidenced by a language falling short of the complete metaphor of “I was a fish,” falling back, rather, to an implied simile of “I [was] with the fish.”

In the final stanza, by incorporating direct address in the context of dream, the poet realizes a complete blurring of being one with, yet separate from, the beloved.

Was I succulent? Was I juicy?         
Flesh is grass, yet I dreamed you displayed me
In pleated paper like a candied fruit.
I thought you sliced me like green honeydew,
Or like a pomegranate full of seeds,
Tart as Persephone’s, those electric dots
That kept that girl in hell,
Those jelly pips that made her queen of death.
Doctor, you knifed, chopped and divided it
Like a watermelon’s ruby flesh
Flushed a little, serious
About your line of work
Scooped up the risk in the ducts
Scooped up the ducts
Dug out the blubber,
Spooned it off and away, nipple and all.
Eliminated the odds, nipped out
Those almost insignificant grains that might
Or might not have lain dormant forever.

The address is at once as if to a lover (“Was I succulent?  Was I juicy?”) and to a professional performing her art (“Doctor, you knifed, chopped and divided it . . . serious / about your line of work”). Again, each of these lines (as well as others), connotes the effect opposite to its denotation. The imploring lover’s request for validation is in itself an admission of separation. And the knife that chops and divides also connects, cleaving the doctor to the patient forever, even as it separates flesh from flesh.

In the opening line to the next stanza, as well as in the lines that follow, we can once again hear Whitman.

Flesh is grass, yet I dreamed you displayed me
In pleated paper like a candied fruit,

The “you” of the doctor, the epigraphed Alison Estabrook, and the “you” of the reader—even the “you” of Whitman and the “candied fruit” of the body—are blurred in the same way that Whitman played with the relationship of parts to whole. And that is the point, metaphorically: language is enacting the inquiry into the questions of what a person is in relation to her body and its parts—even the diseased or missing ones.

This is poetry at its highest function: to express love of language and life by shining the light of metaphor on both, discovering their connections—the chief ones in this volume residing in the ubiquitous flaws of existence. The poems in Section IV widen these cracks exposed in the other sections of the book. Here, Ostriker reopens the seams, the hidden zippers in fabrics that cover us and, artfully (even with humor), undresses one reality in order to reveal another—and to be revealed by both. A brief look at the most significant satellite poems in this section is in order, beginning with “The Bridge” (85).

"The Bridge"

You never think it will happen to you,
What happens every day to other women.
Then as you sit paging a magazine,
Its beauties lying idly in your lap,
Waiting to be routinely waved good-bye
Until next year, the mammogram technician
Says Sorry, we need to do this again,

And you have already become a statistic,
Citizen of a country where the air,
Water, your estrogen, have just saluted
Their target cells, planted their Judas kiss
Inside the Jerusalem of the breast.
Here on the film what looks like specks of dust
Is calcium deposits.
Go put your clothes on in a shabby booth
Whose curtain reaches halfway to the floor.
Try saying fear. Now feel
Your tongue as it cleaves to the roof of your mouth.

What a horrifically splendid image is this “country where the air, / Water, your estrogen, have just saluted / Their target cells, planted their Judas kiss / Inside the Jerusalem of the breast.” Contrast it with the following, two stanzas later, after having read medical articles and made decisions, the narrator, riding toward the hospital with her husband, is presented with a choice of routes:

Given a choice of tunnel or bridge
Into Manhattan, the granite crust
On its black platter of rivers, we prefer
Elevation to depth, vista to crawling

The title of this poem works on many levels. Not only is the poet stating metaphorically that the preference is to openly connect this experience with others rather than to bury it, she is also obliquely referring to figurative language, behind which she does not hide pain, but openly shows it, along with other attendant emotions. The language spans in the open sky; the cancer tunnels beneath the skin in secret. The language points beyond itself to connect life with life; the cancer points only to itself, cutting off life. The language rises on “wings” like the “planes taking off over the marsh,” while the cancer “exhales her poisons.” Ostriker calls out this language directly in “Healing,” a later poem in The Mastectomy Poems (96):

A day that is less than zero
Icicles fat as legs of deer
Hang in a row from the porch roof
A hand without a mitten
Grabs and breaks one off—
A brandished javelin
Made of sheer
Stolen light
To which the palm sticks
As the shock of cold
Instantly shoots through the arm
To the heart—
I need a language like that,
A recognizable enemy, a clarity—
I do my exercises faithfully,
My other arm lifts,
I apply vitamin E,
White udder cream
To the howl
I make vow after vow.

The theme of intertwinement between disease and the search for a language to express it (“I need a language like that, / A recognizable enemy, a clarity” [lines 14-15]), is also pursued in “Wintering” (93).


            i had expected more than this.
            i had not expected to be
            an ordinary woman.

                        —Lucille Clifton

It snows and stops, now it is January,
The houseplants need feeding,
The guests have gone. Today I’m half a boy,
Flat as something innocent, a clean
Plate, just needing a story.
A woman should be able to say
I’ve become an Amazon,
Warrior woman minus a breast,
The better to shoot arrow
After fierce arrow,
Or else I am that dancing Shiva
Carved in the living rock at Elephanta,
One-breasted male deity, but I don’t feel
Holy enough or mythic enough.
Taking courage, I told a man I’ve resolved
To be as sexy with one breast
As other people are with two
And he looked away.

But it is not in Ostriker’s longing for the language to express disease as her personal “crack” in the nature of things that makes “The Mastectomy Poems” the quintessence of this collection. It is the language that she creates with the writing of these poems that seduces us into a deeper relationship with our own flawed existence, and that can lead us to discover our own language as connection to it—enacting the very process that she is writing about—that makes this collection not only memorable, but emblematic of what each poet should be striving for in her own writing. While this is most realized in “Mastectomy,” it is well supported in other poems in this section.

In “Riddle: Post-Op” (87) Ostriker sets the tone for a riddle with these opening lines: “A-tisket a-tasket / I’m out of my casket / Into my hospital room” (87). She continues to describe a festive post-op experience with her family gathered around her, “children plump as chestnuts by the fire,” and “friends bob[ing] in/And out like apples.” But in lines 16-35, beneath this façade of heightened normality, and underneath her bandage, the patient is hiding something:

I’ve a secret, I’ve a riddle
That’s not a chestful of medals
Or a jeweled lapel pin
And not the trimly sewn
Breast pocket of a tailored business suit
It doesn’t need a hanky
It’s not the friendly slit of a zipper
Or a dolphin grin
Or a kind word from the heart
Not a twig from a dogwood tree
Not really a worm
Though you could have fooled me
It was not drawn with crayon
Brushed on with watercolor
Or red ink,
It makes a skinny stripe
That won’t come off with soap
A scarlet letter lacking a meaning
Guess what it is
It’s nothing

In one two-word line, with perfect pitch, Ostriker sounds a bell that both celebrates (“a chestful of medals,” “a jeweled lapel pin,” “the friendly slip of a zipper,” “a dolphin grin,” “a kind word from the heart”), and denies (“not,” “doesn’t,” “won’t,” “lacking”), culminating in the word “nothing.” Nothing—yet everything. A crack in the bell that defines and refines the tone of life’s celebration—enhancing it, shading its meaning within a context of entropy that dissolves into mourning, and finally into nonexistence. The riddle is more than finding the solution to the question posed in the poem, finding out what’s hiding “underneath [those] squares of gauze.” The riddle is discovering meaning in connecting that scar with one’s children, one’s mate, one’s friends, in connecting the pain of mortality with dolphins, a dogwood tree, and, finally, with oneself, wearing “a feathery shawl” made of “snow,” that temporary (albeit beautiful) protection that nature provides, melting away in the heat of the grave. And the genius of the poem in not that each image metaphorically “stands” for something else, but that the entire poem is a metaphor for all beings who are only temporarily “out of [their] casket” until in the end “it’s [all] nothing.” Metaphorical sensibility once again underpins the text.

In “What Was Lost” the poet does utilize a more common use of metaphor in the final line to underscore the origin and purpose of flesh, and its ultimate destiny (90). The opening lines reflect what all children and adolescents believe: that they are indestructible.

What fed my daughters, my son
Trickles of bliss,
My right guess, my true information,
What my husband sucked on
For decades, so that I thought
Myself safe, I thought love
Protected the breast.

After several lines of a litany of praise to her breast, the poet returns to her childhood assumption, now shattered, and concludes: “How funny I thought goodness would protect it. / Jug of star fluid, breakable cup—” (lines 31-32). And in these two metaphors, Ostriker recreates in gorgeous language the crack in everything, for every element that we—and all that we know—are made from was forged in a star that exploded billions of years ago. And no matter how long lasting, each element in our collective bodies will eventually be reduced to one and the same element when our star swells and destroys all that it has made. Perhaps Ostriker was envisioning this bitter/sweet apocalyptic rebirth whenever she wrote these final lines:

Each tree standing afire with solid citrus
Lanterns against the gleaming green,
Ready to be harvested and eaten.

Ostriker progresses through additional stages of mourning—denial and acceptance—in “Normal” (95) and “December 31” (92), which opens with these lines,

I say this year no different
From any other, so we party, the poets
And physicists arrive bearing
Cheese, chile, sesame noodles,
Meats, mints, whatever—

and closes with these:

No different, no
Different, and by 3 A.M. if
The son of my blood
And the wild student of my affection
Should choose to carry on…
                               …may they hear me
Mutter in sleep, sleep
Well and happy
New year.

In “Normal,” the poet draws upon imagery from the Genesis account of creation and the subsequent fall of mankind to rewrite the myth of how suffering and dying comes to us all:

Meanwhile a short piece of cosmic string
Uncoiled from the tenth dimension
Has fastened itself to my chest.
Ominous asp, it burns and stings,
Grimaces to show it has no idea
How it arrived here.
Would prefer to creep off.
Yet it is pink and smooth as gelatin.
It will not bite and can perhaps be tamed.
Want to pet it? It cannot hurt you.
Care to fingertip my silky scar?

And here the roots of metaphor, gathered from the ground of Biblical narratives, the literary canon, and intuitive sensibilities, those tubers that traveled through the digestive tract of Ostriker’s own work, come full circle to a snaking “silky scar” that the poet invites her readers to finger, to caress—to experience its antinomies first-hand before it fastens itself to their own chests.

This passage and this collection exemplify the reasons one must read in order to write well. And I have found no one better to read than Alicia Ostriker in order to discover what I didn’t know that I already knew. I can think of no better place to start reading her than in The Crack in Everything, and I have found no better poems to illustrate her metaphorical sense, her love, than in “The Mastectomy Poems.” In them, you will find both metaphor and love shining in and on all of the cracks—even yours—and you just might find your own healing metaphors, as well.

“Epilogue: Nevertheless” (99)

The bookbag on my back, I’m out the door.
Winter turns to spring
The way it does, and I buy dresses.
A year later, it gets to where
When they say How are you feeling,
With that anxious look on their faces,
And I start to tell them the latest
About my love life or my kids’ love lives,
Or my vacation or my writer’s block—
It actually takes me a while
To realize what they have in mind—
I’m fine, I say, I’m great, I’m clean.
The bookbag on my back, I have to run.

Echoing Whitman with a twist, Alicia Suskin Ostriker challenges us to catch her if we can—not in the metaphors she loves, but in our own, gleaned from our own reading and our own living. In The Crack in Everything, she has surely shown us how to find them.

Works Cited

Aristotle. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Random House, 1966.

Campion, Peter. “Strangers.” Poetry. 195.3 (2009): 225-232.

Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. 

Ostriker, Alicia. “Eros and Metaphor.” The Healing Art of Writing: A Conference and Writing Workshop. Dominican University, San Rafael, Ca. 9 July 2012.

Ostriker, Alicia. Dancing at the Devil’s Party. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2003.

Ostriker, Alicia. The Crack in Everything. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. New York: The Viking Press, 1959.

Terry Lucas’s two full-length poetry collections are Dharma Rain (Saint Julian Press, 2017) and In This Room (CW Books, 2016). His chapbook, If They Have Ears to Hear, was the 2012 winner of the Copperdome Chapbook Contest (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2013). He has recent or forthcoming work in Alaska Quarterly Review and Naugatuck River Review. Terry is a regular guest speaker in the Dominican University of California’s Low-Residency MFA Program, and a free-lance poetry coach.

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