2016 Reads:ABCs of Women’s Work by Kathleen Kirk


This is about literary community. And laziness. Yes, you read that correctly. Laziness. Since I read a good amount of poetry but really struggle to keep up with an online reading record (like Goodreads- I just can’t ever seem to remember to log things there)- I thought I would do my best to chronicle my reading here. (Since I also do not post here often enough, it will hopefully prod me to do that as well.)

My first delightful read of 2016 was Kathleen Kirk’s newest chapbook from Red Bird entitled The ABCs of Women’s Work, an abecedarian of sorts, with each poem starting with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. These poems address truths about the complex and beautiful ways that women work. Not work as in labor, although there is labor here. Not “women’s work” as in traditional gender roles. But the work of living.

It is difficult for me to choose a favorite, but Kirk has a magical way of weaving the familiar and the strange into song that is perfected in “Doorknob”:

It fell out onto the fiberglass
floor of the shower
right in the middle of my breast
self exam, my doorknob
of a heart. Loud, echoey bump
and clatter as when
the ritzy shampoo
my daughter uses falls off
the wet ledge.
Porcelain itself, and scallop
edged, it didn’t break.
Neither did the floor crack.
Everything went on as usual.
Dried my hair, tucked
the doorknob in a top drawer
under an embroidered
hankie from my grandmother.
I might have expected
emptiness. Or blood. Maybe a scar,
difficulty breathing?
But something keeps
opening, opening.
There is so much to admire in this poem. Let’s start with the line breaks. We have the line break on breast (making us imagine the worst we can imagine when we hear breast), then the break at doorknob (making us think the actual object has fallen), then the surprise of the metaphor for the heart.  Bump reechoes the panic of breast, and the line break of drawer connects through slant rhyme with scar, before the repetition of the final word. (Oh, that ending. More on that ending later.)
The poem then leads us through a generational lineage using domestic images (a daughter’s shampoo, a grandmother’s hankie). When the heart leaves the body in the poem, we assume some great “emptiness” – a death, a child leaving the home -and these are both possibilities. One would also medically expect damage -“…blood. Maybe a scar,/difficulty breathing.”  But what we have instead is a miraculous opening – and it can mean so many things.
A literal opening in the body where the heart has fallen out. An opening of the drawer where the heart is stored but cannot be held captive. But most importantly, an opening of doors, the purpose of doorknobs, after all; the heart that continues to open itself to change and possibility despite being ripped from the body.
Other highlights for me included the ekphrastic “Repose,” the quiet power of “Meditation in a Room of Women,” and the reflective “Funeral Flag.” Kirk is a talented writer and a tireless supporter of other poets, and her chapbook deserves your support.  You can click on the cover photo above to purchase from Red Bird Chapbooks.

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