The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Mercy by Shirley Camia

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Review by Sherre Vernon

Shirley Camia is a Filipina-Canadian poet and the author of four poetry collections: Mercy; Children Shouldn’t Use Knives; The Significance of Moths; and Calliope. Her collection Children Shouldn’t Use Knives won the The Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award in 2018.

Mercy is a collection of poems that travels through a daughter’s journey of losing her mother. In the very first poem Camia tells us that the mother has begun a journey; by the fourth, we know she is bedridden; by the fifth, hospitalized. The entire collection continues down this timeline: hospital, death, a public wake, private grief and loss, the forgetting we do when someone is gone, acceptance, mercy – and visitation.

The poems in Mercy are sparse, like the barest exhale. They are short, mostly left-aligned free verse. Stanzas sometimes reach a quarter of a page and rarely go on to a second. When there is standard form in this breathy collection, it is couplets, or couplets interspersed with a single line, as if to say: us two, us two; just me. In their shape and pacing, these poems are the fleeting hope that winds itself through grief and the loneliness of the grieving.

Like the grieving process itself, many of the poems in Mercy are rooted in the unspectacular realm of the quotidian. In the context of this collection, they function like the plain of snow Camia describes in “Blizzard” that covers everything “like a sheet” (7). It is against this backdrop of the ordinary that several poems that make the speaker’s grief uniquely hers, and thus more poignant for us as readers. We are shown the wasting body of her mother as “an atlas / an archipelago of bones // ridges and valleys of sunken flesh” (9) and given entry to that last tender moment, where a daughter “fix[es]  your crumpled barrette” (15). Loss is become a displacement of self, with no access to “all that I had no need to / all that is important to me // now” (46) and grief is a new language where we are caught “confusing…singular and plural / past and present” (51).

Mercy by Shirley Camia
Turnstone Press, 2019, $17 [paper] 9780888016614


Sherre Vernon is a seeker of a mystical grammar and a recipient of the Parent-Writer Fellowship at MVICW. She has two award-winning chapbooks: Green Ink Wings and The Name is Perilous. Readers describe Sherre’s work as heartbreaking, richly layered, lyrical and intelligent. To read more of her work visit www.sherrevernon.com/publications

 

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