PRINT December 2021



Photo: Brian J. Green.

Do you hear yourself? Holly Melgard’s poetry collection Fetal Position (Roof Books) listens where language buckles under, finding not Freudian parapraxis but social forces, decisively sexed. We trip over ourselves, and behind that trip is a push. In “Student Labor,” this sounds like “Oh no, I know. No, I know, I know. No, I’m going to. Yeah no, exactly no.”

The first four mid-length poems can all be read this way, as dialects of equivocation and irresolution produced by duress, as might be one reading of Gertrude Stein’s “How She Bowed to Her Brother.” In “Reproductive Labor” this sounds like “I suspect I might want kids but I don’t know if I want kids, because I don’t know what wanting kids is supposed to feel like.”

She goes on.

“Or does wanting children feel like the want for a toy? I know what wanting toys feels like for sure. Are children just toy people? That could be fun.”

Melgard’s closers are two cat poems. The first, “Lesser Person,” is a completely deadpan extended rationalization of the violence of her son (the cat) via an unsettling recuperation of trauma psychology. 

“I am among the matrix of what he considers to be the lesser persons in the house, and sometimes he tortures me. But I am willing to tolerate the abuse because I love my son, and I know it soothes him.”

The book ends with “Catcall,” which shades the affectionate baby talk of pet address into threatening street harassment, tripping, then skipping, then bounding to reproduce the violent matrix.

“I’ll bet he just needs to cuddle right now, and that’s why he’s being like that. He probably does. You know it’s true.”

Jackie Ess is the author of Darryl (Clash, 2021), which is her first novel of hopefully many to come. Other work appears here and there.