One writer who has been particularly inspirational to me in my career is Jehanne Dubrow. I discovered her third collection, Stateside, midway through my own attempt at writing a book abut being a military spouse. Dubrow, a Navy wife and a well-established poet, approached the topic using the compelling comparison of Homer’s Penelope, who famously waited a decade for her husband, Odysseus, to return from war.
Now she has released her latest book, the stirring and evocative The Arranged Marriage, with the University of New Mexico Press. In it, she writes of her mother’s traumatic marriage, frequently referencing sharp and broken things. In “Set Jerusalem above My Highest Joy,” she writes, “Every marriage is arranged to be broken. / There is a light bulb wrapped in a napkin, / which the groom wedges beneath his heel." It is a dark but powerfully unique interpretation of the Jewish wedding tradition. Then there is “Schiller,” a variation on the ghazal, which is perhaps one of the most beautifully-structured poems I have come across since Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”
“That our parents have lives before us is a secret we close in a dark compartment,” Dubrow writes. It is a statement that gets at her ability to express the surrealist of ideas, a child grappling with the strange truth, as we all have, that there was a time when people we love most existed, but we did not exist. “My / mother’s face was water just before a stone / drops in, surface-smooth, opaque,” she writes in “The Blue Dress.”
But beneath all of the hurt and brutality that underlies the central relationship in the collection, there is love. The speaker’s love for her mother is transformative. Dubrow’s dexterity with language, which first drew me to her work, is once again remarkable. The emotion is raw, but her words are expertly refined.