Connie Post
Prime Meridian
Glass Lyre Press

Reviewer: Richard Allen Taylor

Take a sphere, any sphere: a planet, pearl, or ping pong ball. Mark a dot to represent the North Pole. Place another dot at the point farthest away from the first dot, to indicate the South Pole. Draw a line, as straight as you can make it, from North Pole to South Pole, and mark it 0° longitude. To the right of the line is the eastern hemisphere, to the left, the western hemisphere. This line is the “prime meridian” of your world. On Earth, we call it the Greenwich Meridian and use it as a centerline, a reference against which we measure time and distance, essential for knowing where we are and how far we’ve come.

Connie Post is the first poet in my sphere of awareness to use the concept of prime meridian as a metaphor for one’s most indelible experiences. We may be accustomed to believing that each of us is the sum of our education, moral and religious upbringing, and other life experiences, including our reactions against negative experiences. Without saying so explicitly, Post shows us that certain aspects of experience are seared into the psyche and have a tremendous impact on a person’s character and view of the world. Those aspects together can be considered one’s “prime meridian.” For her, that centerline, that reference point, is her history as a victim of her father’s physical and sexual abuse.

She introduces this darkness in the first poem, “Fault Lines.” A small earthquake strikes in the vicinity. The speaker/author wonders if that’s what made her stumble in the dark. She compares the fault line, where the quake occurred, to the rift between her and her family. “You haven’t spoken to your family / in fifteen years // you wonder how much longer / a fault line / can maintain its own silence.” The reason for the estrangement is not revealed in this poem, but we learn in later poems that her father abused her and her sisters physically and sexually, and her mother helped cover up his crimes.

In “Four Miles from the Center of Town” the author remembers herself as a young teenager who wanted desperately to escape the pattern of abuse: “You will find the body / at the far side of the field / … the sallow, bent body / the smaller self / you / the barely thirteen-year-old / girl lying lifeless / pretending no one will find her / learning to live / in the shallow grave of silence.”

Post’s bitterness against her father builds incrementally throughout the book, as more evidence of his abuse is revealed. Toward the end of the book in “The Burial was Wednesday,” she writes about his funeral. “Everyone gathered / at your grave site / but me … I wonder / what prayers were / muttered / what psalm / they all believe / will deliver you / from evil.”

Post’s writing style (in this collection) is accessible, the lines short and pithy, the language plain and clear. Leave the dictionary on the shelf. Yet, this poet renders stunning images when called-for. Post has little use for punctuation, and many of her poems have none. She traffics mainly in first- and second-person pronouns. “I” and “you” often are the same person, sometimes within the same poem, as when the author switches from speaking for herself to speaking about herself.  The third-person pronouns, used less often, usually refer to her father, mother, or sisters. Most remarkably, this author writes poems that can be taken at both face value as well as one or more levels of deeper meaning.

“Ornithology” is a prime example. Here’s a poem that answers the question, if I were a bird, what would I want to know, learn, and be? I would want, of course, to know “how to find the thin power lines / how to balance / when the flock / leaves you behind,” and “how to atone / for the loss of gravity.” I would want you “to understand / why I bathe myself / in the ruined twilight.” Most of these matters can be construed as individual concerns—one might even say practical matters—except for that “ruined twilight.” How is the twilight ruined? Who ruined it, and why? These are questions not answered by the poem. Post has the good judgment and literary skill to leave some puddles unsplashed for the reader to play in.

Most representative of the main theme of this collection, the prose poem “For All of Us Who” serves as a compendium of allegations, by many women against the many men who abused them:

… I was on my way to work, I was on my way home, I was afraid of him, he told me he would fire me, he told me he would kill me, he told me to shut up or he’d take the kids, he told me I was a whore, he told me I teased him, he told me I would ruin the family, he told me no one would believe me … I didn’t tell for years, I told and was not believed, I have never told, I have bad dreams, I avoid parties, I avoid dark rooms … I need to tell the truth.

Prime Meridian overwhelms us with difficult truth, much of it disturbing. This is not light reading. “Become,” on the other hand, is a poem that offers hope near the end of the book: “Find your place in the river / the smooth stone //… find the side stream / where night can no longer exist // … live in rebellion / careening with the white water ….”

Connie Post served as the first Poet Laureate of Livermore, CA from 2005 to 2009 and has received many awards for her poetry, including the Lyrebird Award, the 2012 Aurorean Editor’s chapbook prize, and the Crab Creek Review Poetry Award.