forthcoming early in 2011 from Red Hen Press
Tremolo can be contained in the line from Theodore Roethke’s villanelle, “The Waking”: “This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.” In music, tremolo describes notes which are repeated in time, as opposed to trill, notes which stand outside the composition’s basic beat. In the same way, our lives often cannot “claim their own space,” but are forced to fit circumstance. The effect is tremulous: we are full of trembling, easily shaken. Tremolo journeys through terrain where the speaker must accept what she’s given: a mother’s death, a daughter’s leaving home, a father’s dementia, a life compromised by war, prejudice and violence, the myriad fearful situations of each day. The poems search for safety, ultimately understanding that the steadiness the speaker knows comes from taking the path in front of her, fully embracing her trembling. The wisdom of these poems is garnered from journeys the speaker fears but must undertake. As Roethke writes, “I learn by going where I have to go.”
Advance praise for Tremolo
“Alice Derry’s poems are small, daring miracles of knowing. She looks at the natural world and the human family so unflinchingly that she discovers, with sad precision, the beauty and frailty of our connections to what we love. She tackles the most difficult of subjects with a breathtaking honesty and fearlessness. I have come to depend upon her poems to shake up what I think I know, to move me from an accepted, comfortable opinion into an intellectual field of dazzling complexity. This is a book you won’t want to lend to anyone—you won’t get it back.” ─Lorna Crozier
Excerpt from Tremolo
when Billy Collins said, you can’t really write about the holocaust
In the nights of insomnia I read
Anne Frank’s new biography—
wading through this crush
of authenticated facts, her portrait
since birth, nothing changes
from the diary itself. A bright,
talkative, hard-to-handle, audacious,
obnoxious teenager, bordering on genius,
is going to die—faceless—at the end.
Her father—because he couldn’t bear to part
with her—didn’t send her to England
when he had the chance. Three weeks later,
the Nazi trap was sprung in Holland.
He sees her the last time in a selection line.
She has her clothes then. Later, head shaved,
pubic hair shaved, her beautiful innocence revealed—
which wanted all in good time, a bed
lit with afternoon sun, one sweet
article of clothing after the next,
a boy just that naive
and head over heels in love.
My sleepless brain refuses the lists
of details—where Anne’s mother’s brothers are in the U.S.,
that second cousin in Switzerland,
the year the Nazis made the Jews stay home after 8 p.m.,
the year they weren’t allowed into movie theaters,
the year they couldn’t ride bikes, couldn’t own bikes,
the year 569,355 yellow stars were stitched, issued and worn—
a small galaxy—
the step-by-step squeeze
which wasn’t, no, still wasn’t death.
Smart and aware, Otto chose the wrong country.
That’s all, something he couldn’t have known—
but had to grieve.
For me, sleep, so long evasive,
suddenly appears: take me now or forget it,
and I switch out the light—
prized, courted sleep,
the sleep I slept at her age—
the way my daughter sleeps now—
Daylight. I wake in a sweat;
each noise brings a new wave
of hot and cold.
Get up. Get up.
But the heavy limbs won’t go into my clothes,
I can’t get breakfast, everything’s burning,
and my daughter,
I don’t put my arms around her
but gaze at her from the line
I’m forbidden to cross—to that place
I can’t save her from,
even if I rush the line
and the bullet doesn’t take me from behind.