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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 2, June 2014

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Dru Philippou
Taos, New Mexico, USA


On Carol Pearce-Worthington’s We Are Not to Sing in the Car

We Are Not to Sing in the Car by Carol Pearce-Worthington. New York City, New York, USA: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014. Paperback, 120 pp. $10.07 USD. ISBN-13: 978-1492873839.

Carol Pearce-Worthington’s latest collection of haibun, written between 2005 and 2013, is divided into seven numbered thematic sections. Taken together, the 78 haibun of varied styles create a poignant memoir.

“Babydoll,” the outstanding opening haibun, immediately captures the reader’s attention. The doll motif, seemingly innocuous, gathers subdued momentum from title through prose to haiku, transitioning from past to present as its deeper meanings unfold.

The first paragraph recounts the loss of a “deep chocolate brown” male doll, beloved by the narrator at three years old and her five-year-old sister. When the doll disappears as mysteriously as it appears, they frantically search everywhere:

Under the beds, in the covers, through the closets, behind the rocker, in the oven, behind the refrigerator, on the porch, in the grass, even around back in the trash burner. And that’s where we find what’s left of him: a section of his stomach with just the belly button intact.

The sisters mourn the doll, enact a funeral, say prayers and bury what remains of him.

The second paragraph, quoted in full, gracefully moves the narrative forward in time:

Years later, when I am far from home, my mother sends me a black babydoll made in China. He comes with a change of clothes, a pacifier, and a newborn’s wrist bracelet where I fill in a birth date as the day of his arrival in the mailbox and his name: Teddy. After my husband.

what’s left of me
when I take
a shower

The mother appears to have tried to replace the narrator’s long-lost childhood doll. The second doll alludes to an even greater loss, leaving it to the reader to infer what that might be. Ultimately, the ensuring grief echoes through the piece as a whole.

The single-thought haiku, although weakened by the absence of a cut or turn and lacking concrete imagery, is more than compensated for by the detailed prose.

It cannot be overlooked here that a handful of haiku in this collection lack juxtaposition or contrast and leave little to the reader’s imagination: “alone in the garden / grandmother / picking beans,” “widow / going mad / behind the curtain,” “he wants to hold me / as I fly / so far away ” and “while he sleeps / I cut / the morning fruit.”

Further, the book may have been more striking had the poet used more varied formats to a greater extent. Although different patterns, from time to time, were incorporated, most of the haibun follow the all-too-common one prose paragraph followed by one haiku composition.

“Kite in August" illustrates Pearce-Worthington’s use of stream-of-consciousness, having little or no punctuation and seamless prose:

In today’s receding light it dances it dares it glitters, the red kite a high borne swimmer on a string so long a flight so high I have to crunch my neck to see it oh that such a kite would never have to land but no it heads down it needs the string needs the hand that holds it so that it can come back again some other time some other year this red paper wisp this flying snake this river dancer gliding in the cloudless clouds the perfect dusk companion and as the city evacuates for a hurricane the kite does a high wire dance with no engine but the breath of here then there and nearly out of sight biting air going nowhere staying tight within its own delight and mine . . .

storm watch
a bumblebee visits
the purple clover

The choice of words contributes to the sense of continuous movement: “swimmer,” “flying,” “dance,” “gliding.” And, the structural repetition lends a poetic rhythm: “it dances,” “it dares,” “it glitters” and “this red paper wisp,” “this flying snake,” "this river dancer gliding.”

In spite of the approaching weather, life goes on, a scene that is reverberated in the haiku.

In "Scholarship," the poet successfully conveys an emotion-ridden incident, presumably from her college years, by juxtaposing third and first-person points of view:

In return for a university writing scholarship, she pledges her first novel. Through the winter, the spring, fall, and winter again, she writes and reads excerpts in class until the book at last is ready for submission. The publisher responds: If she wants this book published, at the book’s end the rabbi cannot abandon his wife for a younger woman. Winter again, six months after changing the ending of her book, she is still unable to walk.

I cut my hand
ripping up
my poem

The first-person haiku relates a more current scene that serves as a foil for the third-person prose story. The crippling emotion of the earlier story, which many writers can relate to, is reflected and emphasized in the haiku.

Another favourite haibun is “Ashes.” Here, Pearce-Worthington uses short, terse sentences, then moves through stream of consciousness, and finally creates punch:

The sun shines but makes nothing warm. The telephone rings. I do not answer. The refrigerator empties. The days are hot or they are cold. Voices rise fade in the street below. Trees flower flowers bloom snow falls melts falls again calendar pages are torn off the days are lost. From prison he writes: You must walk into it and burn up. There is no other way. We have no choice but to become ashes.

repotted
the hearty plant
withers

The meaning of this work, as in many of the writer’s pieces, comes through upon careful examination: The husband, portrayed in several haibun throughout the memoir, is in jail while the wife suffers from depression as implied in the first half of the prose. The husband encourages her to go through fire, a metaphor for life’s difficulties, and become ashes. She starts her transformation but is unsuccessful. Her husband's determination is in contrast with her lack of resolve; this failure is further highlighted in the haiku.

The depth of the haibun in this collection, told in an understated tone, often leave memorable impressions on the reader. The meanings usually arrive from a masterful accumulation of details in which writer and reader are joined by their common experiences. This bonding is a hallmark of an accomplished writer, one that enthusiasts of this genre are well-advised to seek out.

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