The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Fire and Ice by Nancy Gerber

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fire and iceReview by Julie Maloney

– What moves me about Nancy Gerber’s latest work, Fire and Ice, is how she captures the bearings of the heart. Gerber combines poetry with prose in a seamless marriage of love and hurt. Read it once. Then read it again. The second reading will prove even more riveting than the first. From the beginning, she beckons us to her world of Fire and Ice with words by Robert Frost: “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.”

Structurally, the book is divided into two sections: Part One – My Mother’s Hand in Mine — and Part Two – Leaving Home. A more fearful writer might have positioned the poetry in one section and the prose in the other but Gerber nixes rules when it comes to her writing and we love her for it. Beginning with the poem Idol, we know we’re in for an emotional ride:

I took a clay class.
Take classes
that’s what I do –
I took a clay class,
to be close to you.

I figured this way we’d connect
Because clay comes from earth
And I could mold you
The mother
I’d always wanted.

We hear the yearning in Gerber’s voice in the first two stanzas. We trust she’ll continue this way and it is this trust that keeps us reading. She provides us with links to her Jewish heritage in between lines referencing drowning, blaming and memory loss. She asks questions, posed to devastate in their boldness. Supplies responses readied to dive deeper. We go where we’re led and Gerber knows how to do this with a swift flick of a line from the poem, Hair: Why can’t we be closer? We’re close, I say. Close enough.

Swallowing is the only way out before the reader turns the page. We need to catch our breath. Such truth surprises us this early into the book. We are only on page fourteen. But Gerber doesn’t retreat. She mixes things up with her short vignettes, visiting her past, giving us enough to know it left marks. One word titles coincide with the economy of this slim book. “Bessie” and “Robin” and “Mrs. Lane” spring onto the page but it is with “Eva” that Hitler marches in the background, referring to Eva’s Czech days.

We are only on page nineteen.

Where is the hope in this book? And then it comes, ever so bright, moving through her Alzheimer’s poems, Gerber despairs on the loss of her mother’s mind but she ends with a poem called Hope. How brave is this writer! How she sings through the dark, when she writes in The Hope:

One Friday, I arrive at the dementia unit where my
mother lives, just as the residents are gathering for a
Sabbath sing-along…

She knows every single word, but when the song ends, she
retreats back into her silent, wordless state. That song of
hope struck a chord in her memory, and now the moment is gone.
Maybe, next time she’ll sing again.

In Part Two, we begin on page thirty-one in Living in Rennes. The book’s natural division forewarns us that Gerber is stepping in and amongst the landmines to find joy, to learn compassion. Who can resist pausing at a line as elegant as “Today I give you an egg/ you hand me a ruby.” Who could fail to close her eyes, shed a tear at the sadness of “Miscarriage?” A steady stream of a life pours in, page after careful page. Gerber knows how to capture the root of life: “Some things I will not say/ Still, it was a life.” She doesn’t deny us her experience. For this, we must be grateful, if not awed.

While Gerber’s prose provides fragments of her life; it is her poetry that presents the whole picture. Together, they weave a multi-textured fabric of a life lived with acute perception. You might question how such an economical book of forty-eight pages impacts the literary scene, but it does! It does! Fire and Ice enriches us with a sense of knowing and belonging to that omni-present, never-escaping envelopment called humanity. Gerber knows what she’s writing about. I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next.

Fire and Ice by Nancy Gerber
Arseya Publishing
2014, 48 pages


Julie Maloney is a poet and novelist. She is the founder/director of WOMEN READING ALOUD, a non profit 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to the support of women writers through workshops, retreats and special literary events. She holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Visit: www.womenreadingaloud.org

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