To the Other Side and Back Again: Millicent Borges Accardi’s Woman on a Shaky Bridge


Woman on a Shaky Bridge, Millicent Borges Accardi, Finishing Line Press, 2010

Millicent Borges Accardi’s first book, Woman on a Shaky Bridge is short at 23 pages and 16 poems but deals in some of the human condition’s biggest heavy hitters: love, fear, simple sadness, and endurance of the human spirit. Because the book is so concise it begs further readings and the poems speak in a lucid, clear, almost wise voice but do not give themselves away freely. Accardi uses this unadorned voice to her advantage when using open forms and it enables her to draw generality down into the more moving territory of specifics like in This is What People Do:

They move to Mukilteo and throw
pots or play in the senior soccer league.
They set up a weight room and deliver cellular
phones. They get proverbially married and
have hope for children, saying this generation
will be different.

[…]

They retire to places
called Happy Acres and Leisure World.
They get hired by the Honolulu Fire Department
and moonlight as a congressman. They buy
a house with a pool in Mount Washington,
then get a divorce. They have a brother with
pancreatic cancer.

[…]

They get restraining orders. They bail their
Japanese friends out of jail for DUIs and hear
how they were tossed around in their cell.
They go to Little Tokyo and sleep in the car.
They rent a love nest in downtown Los Angeles
and walk to work.

[…]

Everyone is always so happy
when they are finally alone. They do the Friday dance
in the kitchen while Sublime plays on the Bose stereo.
They call the police on the white cube truck parked
over night, every night in the parking lot in front of their
apartment.

The concrete specificity is especially poignant because of the use of the vague “they” throughout. This allows the reader to place themselves and their own quirks and tragedies into the poem. It is an effective hit and miss technique, something similiar to what clairevoyants call cold reading: if you don’t have drunken Japanese friends nor have you ever worked for the Honolulu Fire Department, then perhaps you have worked for another fire department or surely you’ve danced in your kitchen to the stereo? The poem tracks the foibles and choices of a life which inexorably ends in commonplace tragedy. It is the mundane nature of this transformation which makes the poem so terrifying.

This book is filled with poems of transformation and not always from light to dark but also in the opposite direction, often finding a reason for hope, or leaving a space where hope might conceivably fit, as a poem closes. There is little sentimentality but the clean language and lack of artifice lend a finality of truth to the poems without bitterness or cruelty showing face. Here is an example of a poem, Buying Sleep, which undergoes a transformation:

My brother leans over
in the cabin bedroom
that we shared once
a year and says to me
–now mind you
this is the brother I have
hated all my life—
he leans over the bunk bed.
Yes, he got the top.
He leans
into the springs
like he’s an old car
all 12 years
of him…

[…]

and fearing
outhouse snakes,
and the awful windy
silence, the calm of the desert
and the unfed
spring of the fear of father
for still being awake
when the rest
of the sane world is not.
Now this brother leans over
and asks in the sweetest voice possible:
“Wanna buy some sleep?” In the darkness
I nod and, then, realizing years later
say, “Yes,” aloud and so he begins.
He gathers up a cocoon of sleep
in his hands and tucks in my feet,
my ankles, my legs, my torso
and then zips it up tightly under my chin
almost as if he loved me.

Moving from a typical tale of rivalry and expectation of sibling cruelty to a parable on the nature of family love, the discovery of her brother’s love for her is a surprise to the narrator but she still leaves room for doubt with her use of “almost”. It is Millicent Borges Accardis lack of fear in tackling some of the heavier subjects in life, and doing so with tact, skill and without overbearing sentimentality that makes this slim book such a good read. It’s a small pill to swallow, but it isn’t sugared and it tastes like the truth.

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