Review by Lisa C. Taylor
Rebecca Foust’s chapbook The Unexploded Ordnance Bin is timely during a pandemic. The unexploded ordnance bin her son finds on the beach becomes a metaphor for political chaos, neural divergence, and the kind of metamorphosis that can happen when deeply held notions are blown apart by experience. The book is arranged in three sections, each highlighting the possibility of explosion that tinges every choice governments and individuals make. In the title poem, Rebecca Foust imagines the unseen autism gene as the unexploded device.
“at the police station the desk sergeant crooked a thumb towards the dune with its big metal bin & warning sign once a month he said we set them off & it really lights the place up
it’s too small to be seen the gene causing autism but I imagine it anyway with snub nose & fins & powder waiting to dry” (7)
These carefully wrought poems chronicle a journey through trauma and the change of self as well as devastating atrocities around the globe. Through slant rhyme, haunting images, and a willingness to look straight at the numerous detonations in our world, Rebecca Foust presents a historical record of events many would like to ignore. In the second section of the collection, she examines political power and violence as her poems grieve the loss of immigrants, and victims in Palestine and Syria. One of my favorite poems in this section is “Miguel”, a poem about the infant of an immigrant. She is reminded of her father who worked as an Army medic when Dachau was liberated, drawing a parallel to ICE raids and Nazi extermination camps. The beauty of this child becomes a rallying cry for parents who have had their children taken away in ICE detention, all because they tried to escape unspeakable violence and poverty.
“His mother cleans my house twice a month and no, she
doesn’t have papers. He is every healthy nine-month-old child
in his limpid perfection and re-invention of grin,
llama-lashed eyes, toffee skin.” (19)
The horrific actions of governments around the world are juxtaposed with what most of us know to be true, the lives of our fellow humans are as important as our own. These heart-wrenching separations and atrocities highlight our worst selves. I believe it is necessary to train an unflinching light on these actions because poetry, like all art, is activism. It also serves as an historical record of these dark times.
In the third section of the book, Rebecca Foust highlights yet another transformation, that of gender identity. A child claims the female identity that was there all along, inviting her parents to witness and celebrate their new daughter. It affirms what most parents know to be true. We create children and help shape them, but ultimately their paths and identities are uniquely their own. In the poem, Failed Aubade, the poet grapples with the grief at losing her son while simultaneously beginning to embrace her daughter.
true I rejoiced more in your gentleness
than in your beard,
but still, I did rejoice in your beard, and
also in looking up at and leaning against you
in the way women are taught to look up to and lean against
men. Forgive me for that, daughter,
and for my grief at your loss even though you never left,
even though you always have been and are still here. (35)
Throughout the collection, there are transformations. Some of these changes are whispers that take us to historical moments that we cannot change, only remember. Others are in process like the COVID 19 pandemic uprooting our lives. Although the collection is devastating in its honesty, it is not without hope. Will we learn from our political blunders and historical atrocities? Will humanity triumph as it does in the case of parents welcoming their progeny’s new gender? How will the neurodivergent among us fit into in our narrow educational system? The unexploded ordnance bin is a moment. In the poem, it is removed, later to be exploded in a safe place. It is one bomb without casualties, even as others leave a trail of death and destruction. I love the idea of transforming the deadly into the innocuous, the misunderstood into a bridge for evolution. I am grateful to Rebecca Foust for these small explosions of truth.
Rebecca Foust’s books include The Unexploded Ordnance Bin, winner of the 2018 Swan Scythe Press Chapbook Award and Paradise Drive, winner of the Press 53 Award for Poetry and reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. Recognitions include the Cavafy and James Hearst Prizes (Poetry), the Lascaux and American Literary Review Prizes (Fiction), the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize, and fellowships from The Frost Place, Hedgebrook, MacDowell, and Sewanee. She will have a new collection of poetry published in 2022.
Lisa C. Taylor’s books include two short fiction collections and four poetry collections.. Lisa is the recipient of the Hugo House New Works Fiction Award and Pushcart nominations in fiction and poetry. She will have another collection of poetry in 2021.