Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue

Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue (Hyacinth Girl Press) could be seen as just a book of persona poems based on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. However, the more time I spend with the chapbook, the more I see that this is a book about desire, about the dark sides of fancy and childhood, about how little parents can really do for their children and how much. It is about claiming who you are as opposed to who others want you to be. It is about how nothing – not even the things that are supposed to – will last.

The collection begins with “Tinkerbell Thinks About What She Wants” (full text here in diode), one of my favorites in the collection.  After the beginning with a Barrie epigraph that explains Tinkerbell’s common position as a mender of pots and kettles, the dismissive short i sounds in the first lines make clear what the fairy thinks of her position and her name –

“Tink. Tink. Makes me sick, the lick

of their soft calls, this flighty work:”

Toward the end of the poem, she expresses her desire for Peter, wishes she didn’t need his “pretty mouth to/tell me over, make me more/than a sliver of a dead child’s laugh.” But the highlight is the ending, full of the spunk and fury we expect from Tinkerbell, but in a much more mature way:

“Kiss me kettle-hard: yank

 my sorry ass from Never.

Somewhere I’m skin without wings.

Somewhere my name means tough as light.

Several of the poems in the collection deal with the issue of mothering – Wendy as mother to the Lost Boys, Wendy’s mother, Peter’s mother, and the mothers who now share this story with their own children. The descriptions of mothers are sometimes longed-for, barely-remembered ideals:

“and the warm wind of her moving in

off the edge of the bed, to hover

by cool sheets and bring her hands

down on your face

like rain? We were safe there,”

            from “What Wendy Darling Tells Her Brother”

and sometimes tinged with a hint of menace or sadness:

“This is having a mother:

being drawn down, filled

with the amber breath

of clarinets, promises warm

as their terrible weight.”

            from “Peter Dreams – “

In “Wendy Darling Remembers Falling” (full text here at diode), the memory of the mother is far from idealized, making the mother almost ineffectual. As Wendy recalls falling down slate stairs, she also recalls her mother’s hands, desiring

“the leather of her warm fingers in my hair,

even the smooth-glass drag of her ring.”

What she gets is quite different:

“because all her hands had done

was find her lips

and rest against them

as I slapped and slid my hard way

to her shoes: their refusal,

that alien brown shine.”

Kindred gives voice not only to Tinkerbell, Peter, and Wendy, but also to a lost boy tasked with Tinkerbell’s autopsy and to Tiger Lily, whose character actually has a voice in these poems as opposed to in the story. But two of my favorite poems in the collection are not character poems at all. They are poems that use the story – the reading of it to children and the world it creates – as commentary about parenting.

In “One Ending,” the speaker reflects on how stories (both written and lived) can always have different endings. In an epigraph from Peter Pan, Kindred shows how the lost boys stand chastened in front of Mrs. Darling, hoping that she will have them. The speaker, reading to her son, reflects:

“The boy in my lap

who holds my thumb to the page

is called adopted, too. Have his hands

been on that island?”

The boy tells her he can remember a time before she was his mother, a time of mushrooms, flags, and red tigers. When he wakes later to a nightmare, she comforts him:

“holding him warm to my skin,

and tell him hard that he’s home.”

But we don’t end so easily –the next lines bring back the uncertainty and menace of mothering:

“That’s one ending.

There’s always another one,

with tigers red

as mouths, their soft paws smearing

the sides of the house

that is his sleeping body…”

And in “To Mothers Reading Peter Pan,” the speaker asks mothers if they will be able to read the story:

“knowing no children live on this island

without wishing their mothers cold

knowing the waters are filled with fathers

who swam for home but missed the reedy shore

and may appear

only as the bitter ends

of pirates sharpened by sons

into tools

silver and weak.”

These lines to me are the heart of the collection. Children do make their parents into villains, and parents do fail in their children’s eyes. This poem for me questions how we make our children aware of the freedoms they have in the world and prepare to let them go while still keeping them safe:

“Can you wake

can you tell

so someday he’ll be free of you

as the spiders beneath this house

who weave their own names

from the silk of the island’s storms

coming in off your lips

Will you tell

Will you tell

Will your words help

him make land”

This will be a collection I will read over and over and over again. Its layers are worth exploring, and its language is cohesive and surprising. Get one for yourself and see – you will not be disappointed. You might even learn to fly.