April 26, 2014

A Mother’s Sigh: Review of Cat Dixon's Too Heavy to Carry by Sally Deskins

cover credit:
Stephen F. Austin State University Press
Too Heavy to Carry by Cat Dixon
Stephen F. Austin University Press (2014)

Reviewed by Sally Deskins

Cat Dixon’s Too Heavy To Carry takes you to that dark place—the moment of realizing life isn’t a fairy tale. When the rug is swept up underneath, life continues and you have to keep standing—and in Dixon’s case, the children must as well.

When her world comes crashing down after a husband’s affair, in Too Heavy To Carry, Dixon doesn’t prettify or hide—she delves in, as though relishing the despair. We wonder throughout: Will the anguish eventually envelope her in madness? Her writing seems to waver that line, but, it seems, her children keep her on the side of the here and now.

In a few poems, Dixon considers nature and animals—moths, snake, fish, water, a gully, a farm—but her writing shines and is perhaps most raw when seizing the trial and embracing of motherhood. As a point in case, “Commiserating with Another Parent” stuns with brutal honesty. She writes:
…No one has ever
agreed with me before and as you
pour, we talk of childless times—
before—all grand.
We pretend it’s that time again.
The mosquitoes buzz into
the sweet bottles. We watch
as they fly inside the glass—
then you cork them, trapped.
As a rare parental admission, Dixon unapologetically exhibits a yearning for the liberated life before children. Still, her affection isn’t compromised by angst, which consequently presents the oft-dreaded love poems to children as authentic and even delightfully engaging. As in the down-to-earth “Daughters Over Sons,” the unflowery self-reflective note to her child recalls the love that was. She explains:
…I want you to know me, know your father, know that once I snuggled him at night and prayed for him to be safe when he raced off to fire calls. I danced with him in the room that is now yours to Bruce all night and kissed him, and I will never love like that again nor should I. Life came after that…. The sky cries for a month knowing you will love me—you will never know me.
Through the remarkable irony of parenthood and childhood, from idolizing to hating to accepting, she seems to state that her child will never know the “old” real, naïve, liberated self before the stun of childbearing. But unabashed ferocity reigns again in “A Wild Boar Stampedes My House at Night.” It is a dream read as though scribbled the morning after and suggests that it was based on reality. In the burly tale, her husband’s “whore” sends a boar to attack the narrator. As Dixon races to protect her child, her friend appears to help. But the child is still attacked. She describes:
From behind, Shawna shoots the boar with a .22, and it falls dead…. ‘If you had that, why didn’t you use it before, you idiot!’ I roar. I recall the evenings after we put our son to bed how I’d rant at my husband over our sexless existence, over how he could use Viagra with his mistress, but not with me. I pick the child up, hold him in my arms, and apologize for the boar. I leave Shawna to clean up the mess.
The dramatic saga recalls the mother’s relatable and profound yearning, but inability, to keep children safe from intermixing with the muddled marriage. Optimism is displayed via the assurance of a close friend, but also a subtly dreaded dependence upon this friend to pick up after her.

The collection’s existential objective is put plainly in “Gully,” in the perspective of a tree that for decades, “was peacefully standing, a hostess seating / birds, squirrels, leaves… till the land, like a throat / was opened and roots, bloody / tendons, shot forth. / Then it was all downhill / from there. I began to rot / and the other trees / slowly slipped onto a conveyor / belt…” With this, readers see the light turning to dark, the goodness rotting, and the once organic, happy nurturing life now becoming dully mechanical.

Although the last poems “Glacier” and “Does God Play Dice” attempt to answer existential questions to qualm the despair, readers are left not with comfort, but with appropriate confrontation. Dixon writes:
…These polished slopes, ridges
or caps, none are accidental.
The trouble with sorrow, affliction, and imperfection, she suggests, is its immanence. Reading the aching melancholy of falling apart in Too Heavy To Carry, alongside the dichotomy of affection for and burden of parenthood, we may wonder about the said children: When will their cross over come from naïveté to staid awareness? Alas, that isn’t the point. In an overhyped child-raising society, parents’ thoughts and selves can be viewed as secondary—discontent with motherhood prohibited! Dixon daringly and admirably reveals and carries her heft onto these pages. Highlighting the ugly, her resolute writing makes the sweetness and beauty of motherhood legitimate, albeit not without travail.

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