Transplanted by Terry Ann Carter, Borealis Press, Canada, 2006. ISBN 0-88887-311-5, $16.95
Reviewed by Betty P. Warrington-Kearsley for Bywords.
Life’s transforming experiences tend to occur with little or no warning. They sweep in like tornadoes and, in their turbulence, turn peaceful status quo inside out, leaving their survivors to reconfigure life anew. In Transplanted, poet Terry Ann Carter has written, with great sensitivity and skill, on her reflections surrounding the events of her husband’s need for a kidney transplant.
In the first part of her collection, sub-headed “Pre-Op”, the first poem (‘Prognosis’) proclaims the first sense of shock:
“... the opaque wedding ring. / Some objects more easily passed into /
some marriages shocked by light.”
From the time of receiving the sombre news to the post-operative period the possibility of death, although never mentioned in regard to her husband’s illness, is alluded to in poems relating the death of two students:
“what I always remembered / about the dead boy / was / the day / he offered / two poems
folded inside a shell ...” ( from ‘poems’) and,
“... I watch my students in their grief / suspended without buoyancy. / They hug each other / in disbelief / ....” (from ‘Flute Music for Camille). Grief, sadness, anxiety and heightened sensibilities are intimated in poems in the rest of this section, as in:
“How can we prepare / for this new script, / ...An introduction to characters / complete with crisis, denouement. / ...figuring it out alone / a Rubik’s cube too large / for any fingers.” (‘Transplanted’)
For sustenance, after thirty years of marriage, the poet’s mind draws from the vast and rich store of memories of their time together. It clings to what is precious from their earliest days together:
“...Our first apartment. / You climbing the stairs / two at a time, hippie hair / bouncing off your shoulders...” (‘The Skin of Cantaloupe’)
to their travels (‘Night Train’, ‘Prague Suite’, ‘Honey, Let’s Take a Holiday’, (‘Standing in Front of Statues’), mementos (‘Botticelli and the Secrets of Married Life’), and family life including memories from her own childhood (‘The Things That Vanish’), of her two sons ( ‘Fish Poem for Barrett’, and ‘Dylan’s Sky’), an aunt and grandmother (Peeling my Grandmother’s Potatoes”).
While collective memories gather, closing in like family and friends braced against the unknown, and in confirmation of the strength of her own union in marriage, Carter’s mind is never far from the present and the prospect of her husband’s impending surgery. Her poems, interweaving past and present, memoir and imagination, nearly always contain or conclude with an ‘Aha!’ moment of enlightenment, defined or otherwise:
“... The Bach prelude. / Notes rise. / There is something here / that saves us / gives us bone / beneath the skin.” (Flute Music for Camille).
Carter is also a very fine and widely published haiku poet.
In the second part, “Post-Op”, after such major surgery, the sense of apprehension remains poignant throughout the early post-operative days. Death still lurks in the wings, alluded to in ‘Needing Butterflies - part 6'. The poet finds brief solace in diversions, as she did earlier while on a solitary walk (‘Ridge’), at the symphony (‘Premiere’), where
“...in these shimmering cymbals / and flutterings of alto flute, / as if heart beats emerge ... steady undeniable / droplets of sound, pulsing / like a bedside monitor.”
But there is no distracting from her all-consuming preoccupation with her husband’s recovery.
The poems in Transplanted are ultimately poems of love and faith:
“...it is important to have been loved / and to go on loving / even though a modern alphabet / unlocks a language of doubt.” (‘Grammar Lesson’).
They are also poems of forbearance:
“...Who knew that I would need / such forbearance, a word / from my New England Past / a place for pioneers / and independence...” (Forbearance) and,
“...In marriage, the disappearance / of self, our bodies shimmering / into darkness. How we strive / to shape our own bones.”(Transparencies).
In this collection of exclusively free-verse, narrative poems with occasionally exquisite use of metaphor, Carter paints her imagery with the brush of an accomplished artist and draws the reader directly into the scene. Her use of language is accessible and encompassing of her broad range of sensibilities. The reader cannot help but be invited to share the poet’s intimate account of a truly human and humbling, life-transforming experience. This book will be comforting to those undergoing similar experiences, but is equally fulfilling to read and re-read for the sheer pleasure in poetry.