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North Carolina Miscellany

the mother must have once been beautiful, the speaker remembers herself at age ten, asking her mother if she were “pretty.” Her answer, “You’ll never be a great beauty . . . But you’re pleasing enough,” caused the daughter to recognize herself as “plain” and to remember that even asking the question, in a missionary household, was considered vanity. However, the poet, now a mother to her own mother, rewrites the history. Now I smooth her wild hair, so sparse you can see her scalp. Yes, I tell the clipboard clutching doctor, my eyes locked on his. My mother was [beautiful.] She still is.

Copeland’s signature enjambments and line breaks are especially visible here. The break on “clipboard” highlights the conflation of the doctor who can’t see her mother’s existing beauty with his bureaucratic function; “clutching doctor, my eyes locked” fuses the gaze and the clutch, suggesting the desperation and defiance of the statement; and “She still is” locks the statement with the solid emphasis of two spondees. This act of re-vision, offering her mother what the mother could not provide for the poet, is a compelling moment of reckoning, forgiveness, and independence. Copeland chooses not to repeat her parents’ mistakes; the act of speaking, of acknowledgment, is simultaneous with the act of forgiveness. It is an act that seems to serve her well in the book’s final section, in which the painful marriage of the parents recurs in the poet’s struggles with her own spouse – who pushes her away into one or more separations. Nor does the speaker soft-pedal her own contributions to the divide; in “Sweet Basil” she acknowledges a flirtation which she ultimately eschews in favor of returning to her husband, the man with whom she plays “Tombstone Bingo” (counting cemeteries while driving): We stop

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be the first to draw the last breath, knowing no one wins this contest.

This statement rewords the initial poem’s statement that no one gets out alive to cast light on the “contests” of marriage. The narrator has learned that it is the brevity of mortal existence that makes forgiveness imperative. The books ends, not where it began, but in a kind of spiral from it, with “Sandhills Gold.” In the year of her father’s death, the poet writes, beekeepers gathered some blue honey whose origin no one knows, honey her father never found. As the speaker attempts to remind her father about his beekeeping, the process leads her to consciously choose what she will remember: a kind speech of her father’s, which renders her a queen without a country or a hive, standing in slanted light as bees droned around my head, weaving a crown of wings and buzzing with sweetness.

But the poem goes on to spread grief like crystallized honey on toast; the choice to remember sweetness undoes neither the grief, nor the unbearable loss which must be borne, nor the long, corrosive action of “sorrow, anger, and remorse.” All Copeland – and Wilson – can keep is the power to tell, the words that are the blood which become the mysterious blue honey; like another poet,* what they could not part with, they have kept: I want my words to flow like a vein onto the blue-lined page as holy honey flowed from his white hives onto our bread, our tongues, our lives. n

keeping score, not wanting to know who’ll

* The subsequent passage is from Robert Frost’s “I Could Give All to Time,” in Edward Connery Lathem, ed., The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, complete and unabridged (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969) 334–35.

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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