Poetry paves the pathway into the heart's best-kept secrets.
Frances Richey, a poet and mother --- and, in her own way, a
warrior --- has chosen to tell us about herself and her warrior son
through the medium of her poems. Ben is fighting in Iraq. She
struggles at home with feelings and ideas that are at war with the
reality of their shared situation.
In her lament “E-mail from a Secret Location in Iraq: Re: the
Puppies,” Richey recalls:
When my son was small,
I set boundaries: first the yard,
Then our street, our block.
On a back road in Virginia,
I let him take the wheel, dark
But for the car's high beams,
A few stars. He told me,
I want to be a soldier.
I thought he'd change his mind…..
Richey's innermost gatherings include us in the sense of a mother's
pain as she poses a question in the same poem: Will he come
Ben dedicated himself to war, graduating from West Point as a Green
Beret. His whole young life pointed toward the possibility of doing
battle with an unnamed enemy. He is neither hesitant nor afraid.
His mother is. By his actions and with his life, he supports the
idea of war and the justification of this war, while his
mother cannot. So they live, apart, but not alienated. There are
plenty of opportunities for dialogue, maybe more when he is over
there than when he was at home. Until the day she learns:
She's been instructed to stop
and letters. He's leapt
into the ether, where all things
go that vanish. Nowhere
a mountain cave, the Tigris
on her mind, in her heart…..
Just as Ben is no ordinary soldier, but part of an elite force,
Frances is no ordinary mother. She dropped out of corporate America
to find a more meaningful life, and through working in a hospice,
she became conscious of her poetic talents. Poetry was the method
she chose to give meaning to her life after Ben, whom she had
raised as a single parent from the time he was two, left for
college. Poetry became the voice she used to reach out to Ben and
inward to her often ambivalent feelings about Ben's choice to join
Every parent wants her child to believe she is proud of his
accomplishments. Richey desires that. But she doesn't support the
war in Iraq. In “Home on Leave” she realizes,
He has another life
Where he stuffs a plug of tobacco
Inside his cheek, straps a knife
To his thigh, searches
The homes of strangers, alert
To anything that moves. In that life
He knows the difference between
Killing and murder; that even
Though the children are frightened,
He must keep his helmet on.
Richey grew up in West Virginia coal country, a region where
hardship is a known quantity. Her poetry reflects her inner
testing, her struggles to stay strong and wait. Her earlier poetry
collection, THE BURNING POINT, won the White Pine Press Poetry
Prize in 2004.
On her website, www.FrancesRichey.com,
Richey wrote these musings about the fifth anniversary of the Iraq
War: "It is easy to get so busy with the day to day demands of our
lives, that we forget there are thousands of US soldiers still
deployed in very dangerous circumstances, each one with a family
waiting, and hoping for their safe return. If you are reading this
posting, please don't forget them. If we don't look at their faces,
and listen to their stories, and remember, the solutions we pray
for may never be realized."
Richey's poems are attracting widespread attention, both as gems of
her craft and as statements about the classic sorrow of a parent
whose child has gone to war. This collection is an acknowledgement
of her fears, her maternal need to protect, and her courage in
simply standing by when she would gladly do more. She speaks for
all mothers when she writes, in “Thetis”:
Isn't that your job?
To whisper in the ear of
Any god who'll listen: Please,
Thetis was the mother of Achilles who tried, without success, to
render her son invulnerable to the perils of war.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 24, 2011