Those Who Keep Arriving
Silverfish Review Press
Reviewer: Erica Goss
In her debut poetry collection, Julie Danho brings together themes of ancestors, displacement, ethnicity, and marriage. Moving across continents and through relationships, Danho juxtaposes the ordinary against the disquieting, finding her journey through life echoed in the experiences of her parents and grandparents.
The contrasts between her heritage and the relative comforts of her life recur in Danho’s book. In “It’s Terrible What’s Happening There,” Danho faces the inevitable reactions “if it comes up I’m Syrian:”
I never know what to say because I’m Syrian-
American, and I know only as much as you
of the city that bombs are skinning
down to concrete and bone …
The poem concludes: “my horror is that of a woman who looks / at the sky and expects only blue—a luxury / my ancestors passed down to me.”
In “Ode to My Pink Bathroom,” the speaker ruefully accepts the “blush and gleam” of the bathroom, color of “prosperity, pedigree, / First Lady Pink named in honor of Mamie // Eisenhower.” She acknowledges her position as the new owner of this bathroom: “How can I blame them? / I didn’t live through The War, the Boom.” These pink bathrooms, and untold numbers of other reminders of bygone eras, await “millions like me” who “wake up and stumble into a past that waits / with toothbrush and soap.” This past, so evident in the pink bathroom, is not the past of Danho’s ancestors; that history comes alive in these lines from “Old Country”: “Beirut was just a myth until you left, / a land that my Sito fled, then closed / her mouth around.”
The nearness of violence and its sudden appearance in one’s life informs “Distance:”
It’s said that tragedy draws us closer,
yet we look for a rock to wedge between us
and horror …. Randomness is the mad king
The poem centers on an incident that happened on the bus route Danho takes: “a man stabbed a woman / until she died.” It turns out the man and woman were married; Danho arrives at the ironic conclusion, “It’s always safer when someone / is killed by someone they loved.” This poem reverberates with a multitude of contradictions: the connection between the victim and the murderer gives the rest of us a sense of relief, but what does that say about intimate relationships? We, the public, feel safer; the woman, obviously, was not.
Another public transit incident, this time on the subway, informs “The Subway Doors Closed.” In a second, what seemed to be an ordinary day turns terrifying:
“Someone’s fallen on the tracks!
A child!” I was confused.
My girl had been the only child
on the platform. Panic came on slow
as air bubbles in the water before it
In the disorder that follows, a bewildering flurry of details pepper Danho: “… they’re saying she’s on the tracks”— “Had she run toward / the car …” — “I tried to see down / to where she’d been ….” Even though no harm comes to Danho or her daughter, she will never forget that moment of utter panic when everything in her life swung suddenly in one direction, and then, just as suddenly, swung back.
The unthinkable but still very real possibility of a child dying before her parents is enough to jerk us out of our habitual apathy. Attending the funeral of someone else’s loved one brings on less intense but still uncomfortable thoughts. In “When the First Father Dies,” we hear the speaker’s inner monologue: “You’re glad it’s not your own,” even though “We know this waits” and “your turn will not be better.” Halfway through the poem, Danho enumerates “the rhythm of grief: father / before daughter, mother after father // before daughter, if no one misses their cue.” These funerals for other people’s fathers function as rehearsals for the one when the loss will be our own; even though we sympathize with the pain of someone who lost a loved one, it doesn’t count nearly as much. As Danho puts it, “Seeing a mugging / isn’t being mugged.”
The grief of another kind of loss underscores “Writing Around the World.”
I look up
meeting with disaster—not one
of which you use.
The repetition of the prefix “mis” indicates that the poem deals with a miscarriage. The speaker receives a letter from a friend where “not one comma is mis- / placed.” It’s as if she can’t bring herself to say the word miscarriage; the speaker comprehends this:
But since I know this grief
thrives in silence, splits
and multiplies until
it presses your chest
through the night, let me cup
my hands beneath your mouth,
and catch whatever slides out.
Birth manages to be the most unremarkable miracle of all, a fact Danho captures in “For My Daughter on Her First Birthday.” This spare poem honors the bond between mother and child while managing to avoid sentimentality. “You were late, / but ordinary,” Danho writes, “without complication.” We see the new mother with the baby on her chest looking like “a frog queen / come up for air,” and share the wonder of those oddly anticlimactic moments just after giving birth. “Repetition / should dull wonder,” Danho writes, “but you emerged / like a continent / breaking off from Pangaea.”
“Early Marriage” contemplates what would happen if one partner died early in the marriage: “So young, you won’t widow forever: / Another will lie with you all those nights.” In spite of the inevitable grief such a loss would bring, Danho writes, “death isn’t what I fear best. It’s the living / who must welcome those who keep arriving,” from which the book’s title comes.
The book ends with “I Want to Eat Bugs With You Underground,” a darkly humorous love poem that includes environmental disaster and our utter incomprehension of what lies ahead: “You know how poorly I dig holes, / how angry I get when I’m cold, how twice / I’ve accidentally maced myself ….” The poem captures how we react when we hear news about how humans will survive, but “only some of us, the ones / living in tunnels, eating crickets to survive.” The poem ends:
because ruin can happen as slowly as plaque
blocking arteries, and only later feel as true
as your hand resting on my hip, both of us
quiet as roses waiting for the bees to arrive.
Those Who Keep Arriving contains poems of love, of wanted children, of partnership and commitment. Throughout the collection, Danho’s voice is measured and controlled, even when discussing death, loss, and grief. As she examines her inheritance, she finds the threads of its connection to her own life.