Book Review: “Cane” by Jean Toomer

I’m torn about this book.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s beautiful. I can give it full marks for that, but for some reason enough of it did not resonate inside me to leave me wanting more of it.

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The book is a collection of short stories and poetry, based around black experience both in the rural south and up North during the 1900’s to 1920’s. Every piece had a wandering, lost, sort of feeling to it, reminiscent of the author himself, who spent most of his life suspended between the worlds of white and black, due the to racism of his day. My version of the book had a fairly extensive biographical portrait of the author at the end, which helped to pinpoint the inspiration for a lot of the pieces within the collection. And though it is a collection, I have seen it called a novel. This is probably because as you’re reading you see little connections here and there, linking everything together in a sort of chain.

The longest and final piece in the collection is written in a very interesting style, a sort of mixture between prose and play. The dialogue attributions are not done with the usual, “he said” and “she said,” but like a play have the speaker’s name with a colon. All of the poetry was beautiful, and this same beautiful use of language spilled into the short stories, making them a kind of prose poetry.

As lovely as this book was, only a few of the short stories really grabbed me, and the very last and longest story was not one of them. Perhaps it was this that left me feeling a bit torn about the whole collection. It was almost like reading a really good book with a disappointing ending. I have seen many reviews online about how wonderful the final story is, and the author himself admitted in a letter that the main character in it reflects his personal experience, but I wasn’t moved by it the way I was when I read “Passing” or “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

If you’ve read it or plan to read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section, along with any recommendations for me to add to my ever lengthening “to read” list.

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Book Review: “Sold” by Patricia McCormick

This book. Just wow.

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It’s poetry. Literally. The whole book is a series of poems all telling the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution.

It won’t be any surprise when I say that this book was hard to read. It’s Young Adult and not atrociously graphic, but it’s well written enough that it nearly shattered me. I barely slept after I finished it, because it made me feel so powerless. The author went to India and Nepal to interview girls who were saved from child slavery and sex trafficking. It didn’t matter that Lakshmi’s story was fiction; the whole book just feels far too real. It made me feel miserably uncomfortable and helpless, like when you get an alert on your mobile that there has been some global catastrophe, and you know that there is little you personally can do to help.

I think that telling this story through poetry was especially effective, because of the vivid visual nature of poetry. Yes, this can also be accomplished through prose, but I wonder then if the story would have needed a lot more excess description of movement and action. In poems everything is cut back to sensations, sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. This made the book able to talk about something as horribly graphic as child brothels by preserving the essentials and making the trauma palpable.

All I could think was, this girl is only thirteen. This girl is only thirteen.

This book meant a lot to me. It was one of those books that forces your eyes open, drags you from your comfortable life, and screams, “Don’t waste your life. People are suffering. This is real.” These are the kinds of books that deserve medals and awards, because they bring awareness to the world about ugly things. If you can stomach the ugly, read this book.

I spent a day or two looking for organizations that work to stop sex trafficking in Nepal and India. I have placed two links below if you want to read up on the work they do, or donate to help.

World Vision
MountainChild

 

The Trouble with Technology

Even if I wasn’t a writer by profession, one of my wifely duties to my seminary attending husband would be to help proofread his papers. When you’ve spent hours pouring over a document, you tend to miss those little things (the the “of” that should be “if”) that a second pair of eyes will always catch.

It was during his first semester of seminary, and Timothy and I were locked together in a struggle to turn in his research paper by midnight. I’m by no means a night person, but I wanted to stay up with him; to fight this battle by his side, like Eowyn rushing to aide Aragorn in battle against the dark lord.

Don't ask how long it took me to make this horrific image, for I shall not tell.
Don’t ask how long it took me to make this horrific image, for I shall not tell.

So, he was on his computer, typing and editing, and I was running back and forth to the printer, getting hard copies for us to read over and edit.

But our foe was greater than the deadline. Its evil had spread to inhabit other intangibles, wreaking havoc on the internet, wifi, and the cables connecting his desktop to the printer.

I had to go outside every time he printed, because the printer is housed next door at his Grandparent’s house. The air was cold and damp and so was my temper. It was about the three-hundreth (possible exaggeration) time Tim had sent the printer job. I sat down in the office chair beside that blasted piece of grey and white plastic and waited for it to connect. Miracle of miraculous miracles, it’s innards began to click and whir. I sat up straight, hardly believing my ears. My feet moved without my knowing it, until I found myself leaning over the machine with tears in my eyes. The title page of his paper rolled out of the machine. I picked it up greedily and held it to my chest. Glorious victory! I had moments before been  a weary warrior, beginning to contemplate if it would not be better to lay down my arms and crawl back to bed in defeat. But no. No! Patience and diligence had won out over…

I hardly need tell you what happened next. So I’ll describe to you what I heard in onomatopoeia:

FISSSSSSHT-whirrrrrrr…click…click……. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep! Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep!

I pounded my fist on the desk and said some rather unpleasant words in my head. After I had regained my composure, I sent a text off to my husband to try again. I was not going to cross the enemy lines again until necessary, for fear that, once I reached home base, I would lose my will to return to the fray. I sat down to edit the three pages in front of me, while my husband fiddled with the connection on the other side. Eventually the printer relented and coughed up a copy of his paper, like a signed treaty of peace, and I stumbled home, bitter with what seemed unsatisfactory reparations for the loss of life and limb I’d sustained.

I came into our room and put the edited pages on Tim’s desk, slipped the top cover page from the pile, and read to him the following words I had composed during our painful separation. It was not a letter of love from a warrior who missed their homeland, nor was it anything so deep and thought provoking as some material that foxholes produced during the great battles of yore. But it spoke of the feelings from my deepest heart, and I knew my husband would appreciate it. I will now share it with you. *A-hem*

The printer is blinking,
That means it’s not printing,
I’m standing here watching it flicker.

The silence is killing,
I wish it were willing,
To click and to whir and to blipper.

I swear if I knew what,
Was screwing it up,
I’d do everything in my power,

To help it connect,
Via wireless internet,
And print out my husband’s damned paper.

*bows low to the ground while the crowd cheers and throws roses* Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I will be here all week.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

The Creature Living in My Heart

Sometimes he’s lonely, the creature living in my heart, and takes me to the side.
He insists that I say with him, send everyone away, and then he tells me dark stories about a useless, bent, and broken girl who keeps company with the creature living in her heart.

Sometimes he’s hungry, the creature living in my heart, and builds a fire of rage.
The smoke and heat burn my insides until hate pours from my eyes and mouth, splashing the innocents near me. I loathe myself these days, but he says he must eat and I cannot make him leave, this creature living in my heart.

Sometimes he’s thirsty, this creature living in my heart, and milks my soul for tears.
He compresses my chest until I break down and drip salt and water and blood. He says he must drink and I cannot make him leave, this creature living in my heart.

He wants to own my body, the creature living in my heart, and tells me to vacate it.
I want to say I disagree, that I’ll stay on and he must leave, but the days are growing longer, harder now, since he began to drink and eat and be my only company. I am forgetting who I was. He bids me sleep so he’ll be free, the creature living in my heart.

But somedays he’s quiet, the creature living in my heart, and I forget he’s there.
My hands and mind work best these days. I build cities, unite lovers, and bring justice to evil with my pen and smiles to those who still choose to love me, despite the creature living in my heart.

So I’ll continue fighting the creature living in my heart.
For hope is not beyond me yet, and he is a trespasser in the life that God gave to me. And I believe he will soon grow lonely then hungry then thirsty then wither and fade, so the me that I once knew, that now I only see in snapshots, will live without a creature in her heart.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Anna

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The day’s fading fast now.
Your dreaming won’t keep.
I take hold of your hand as you’re falling asleep.
Since you can’t wait up for me, you go on upstairs,
And keep the covers warm darling,
I’ll join you there.

When we said I do I knew how it would be.
You’ve been awake twenty years more than me.
So I’ve saved a place for me, beside you in bed,
With a single shared pillow of stone for our head.

My day’s fading fast now,
And dreaming won’t keep.
This will be my last visit before I fall asleep.
I put my lips to cold stone and I kiss you goodnight.
“I’ll be with you soon lover. Until then, sleep tight.”

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Precious, Tiny, Little One

Precious tiny little one
When it’s raining, you’re my sun
Your laugh the tinkle of a bell
Bringing heaven, dousing hell

Precious, tiny, little thing
Let me hold you while I sing
Your lashes droop and brush your cheek
I’ll rock you till you fall asleep

Precious tiny little flower
I’ll shield you from the darkest powers
Until you’re old enough to stand
And only need to hold my hand

Precious tiny little dove
Mommy’s heart is full of love
With every kiss and every song
That leaves my lips my whole life long

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

If You Do Not Go With Me

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If you do not go with me,
Do not send me up from here.
I cannot bear to go alone.
I need your hand to bring me home.

If you do not go with me,
Do not send me from this place.
Be the lamp who guides my feet,
Through laughter and the bittersweet.

If you do not go with me,
Do not send me from your side.
Carry me, or hold my hand.
Be the footprints in the sand.

If you do not go with me,
Do not send me up from here.
I cannot do this on my own.
God, please, don’t make me go alone.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015