Review by Tasslyn Magnusson
I am a poet and historian. My dissertation examined the relationship between memory, national identity, and race in our public spaces. I am still deeply interested in how we use words, symbols, and the evidence of the past to tell stories about who we are. So, when I opened Poem That Never Ends by Silvina López Medin, I knew I had found a new love.
Poem That Never Ends is a fascinating and beautiful work that shapes a narrative about her familial past, present, and future. Using poetry, prose, and image, she builds a way to look at her mother and herself – and thus a model for how we all can shape our understanding of our own identities.
A recurring story throughout the book is the fact that López Medin’s mother ripped up almost all of the letters her own mother wrote. López Medin was left with a letter and some artifacts to create her book. Piecing together a story of her past, López Medin uses images of dress patterns and sketches from her mother to move from finding an “anecdote” of the past to coming as close to embodying it as possible (12). Like the cut pieces of fabric her mother used to assemble clothing, López Medin uses scraps and bits of language, memory, and image to create something entirely new.
Bolded letters across the text serve to shape the second poem, “The Coda.” In this poem, we see the struggle to shape the edges of the sources, to fit what has been broken by perspective and time. López Medin writes “my mother – I – inside her – under the same framing glass – lost in so much looking” (77). Is it the gaze that fractures the original story or is it trying so hard to put someone into that framing glass that we miss the complexities of life? Perhaps we lose when we try to look instead of just be.
The answer lies in the “Poem That Never Ends,” where the “Mama” of the poems is all of the Mamas in the book over and over again. “Mama sees everything hears everything / remembers everything,” explains López Medin (85). We may not have “time for documenting time,” as López Medin writes of her mother, but these poems show that we do have time for living time (28).
None of the Mamas have a separation because each is reflected and refracted into the other. “My body in the mirror wearing my mother’s black shirt. Loose and / tight parts mark the distance between her and I. I’m half-dressed as her. / I’m half-her. I’m inside her” (51). Over and over again, López Medin uses mirrors to show the fuzzy edges between herself and her mother and herself and her past. In one of the most beautiful sets of poems, about a visit López Medin and her sons made to an art installation by Do Ho Suh, López Medin describes a house her grandmother made for her. As she and her sons move through the fabric home, we see the embodiment of all of her poems. López Medin is in one room and her sons the other: “the fabric is translucent, we are / separated by a wall we can see through. And we look at each other” (72).
López Medin’s poems show us that no matter what evidence we find of our familial past, no matter how many edges we try to sew together, the story is not in the facts that make up each individual story, but in connection, the gaze, and the collaboration of family through time and space.
Poem That Never Ends by Silvina López Medin
Essay Press, 2021, $15.95
Tasslyn Magnusson received her MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Broad River Review, Room Magazine, Mom Egg Review, The Raw Art Review: A Journal of Storm and Urge, and Red Weather Online. Her chapbook, “defining,” from dancing girl press was published in January 2019. She lives in Prescott, WI with her husband and two kids and two dogs.