Recently, I have been trying to understand how women, as lovers, observers, as teachers and veterans, mothers and wives, and especially as female poets, understand and feel about war in all its many forms. Jehanne Dubrow, in her third poetry collection, Stateside, addresses a sub-culture often without recognition: the women waiting at home for the men who are deployed overseas. Her collection digs into the emotional wax and wan that can build, distress, destroy, or strengthen, both a woman and her marriage.
Divided into three parts: pre-deployment, separation, and post-deployment, her collection gives readers a truth, that lest they are the one bound to the shores, going to the mailbox alone, they will never completely fathom.
According to a May 25, 2010 Washington Post article, 94,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan (one of many stations world-wide). At least half of those troops presumably have left their loves behind. Part One’s poem, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, introduces a clever intermingling of quiet wit and blatant irritation. The poem’s internal dialogue gives the piece a two-fold texture of the speaker’s anger, yet desolation.
Foxtrot the Navy, I yell into the phone,
the first time that my husband groans deployed,
a word we’ve waited for since war began
four years ago.
[Let whiskey slide as slow
as bullets down my throat. Let foxtrot be
both verb and noun].
There is controlled stillness in the cadence and phrasing of the lines that lends itself to the overall ebbing texture of the collection. The poem “Nonessential Equipment” adds a quiet reality.
The seabag must be light enough to sling
across his shoulder, weigh almost nothing,
each canvas pocket emptied of regret.
The trick is packing less. No wife, no pet,
no perfumed letters dabbed with I-love-yous,
or anything he can’t afford to lose.
During Part Two, Dubrow explores the undeniable affects of being left behind. She also, perhaps unintentionally, explores the undeniable great love that grows from this distance. Loyalty, growth, self-preservation and temperance, anticipation and introspection find home in her verse here. “In Penelope’s Bedroom”, one of a series that brings modern verse to the known faithfulness of Odysseus’s Penelope, Dubrow laments on the necessity of the unchanged, despite her beloved being ever absent.
The right side of the bed must stay
his side. She slips into her negligee,
as if she’s dressing still for him.
Perhaps her body cannot learn its grim
topography. She knows that life
has dried her up. How terrible to be a wife
made widow and yet still remain
married—what inaccessible terrain.
England’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had one of the greatest love stories of all time. When he passed, Prince Albert’s room remained a shrine to Queen Victoria’s continued love. Nights she slept with a photo of him by her side. Much like “In Penelope’s Bedroom”, changing the room’s dynamic would reflect an admission that the beloved will never return.
The language and movement in many of Dubrow’s poems is full of beauty and measured breath despite inevitable anxiety that appears in the last section of poems. The transition from “overseas” to “stateside” is addressed with an intensity of voice that reflects both the measure of circumstance, and the measure of a woman in constant pendulum. In Part Three’s “Situational Awareness” she writes, “—I’m hypersensitive,/stretched thin as a length of wire, a hair–/trigger mechanism”. In “Stateside”, the title poem, this feeling continues with, “then we are stretched/nearly to the breaking./The wait becomes my pulse,/come home come home”.
Jehanne Dubrow’s collection not only examines what it means to be undone and to redo, but her collection gives readers a truth: the women behind the tears and welcome home banners, the women behind the hugs seen on CNN, the women waiting to be mailed. The smallness and quality of moment and movement in her work lends to the reality that we are always waiting for love; some women just have more tenacity. “There is courage/in collision,” she writes in her poem “VJ Day In Times Square”.
Stateside, published by Northwestern University Press, was named a 2010 Book of the Year Finalist in Poetry.