Whether she’s writing about jellyfish, Michelangelo, automatons, or gun violence, Rebecca Morgan Frank is a writer interested in the processes of perspective and perception. She engages in ways of re-seeing the world; or, as she comments in an author’s note, she’s constantly adjusting the lens. A poet of ekphrases and elegies, Frank observes the finitude in front of her while acknowledging the infinite beyond her. In the poem presented here, “Restorations,” she uses tightly-coiled stairstep tercets to explore the conceptual triptych of creation, destruction, and restoration and their relation to art, faith, and the body. “Restorations” also critiques the insidious, ingrained misogyny that soots our society in that the three defaced statues appearing in the poem represent women, while their demolishers are men. Opening with the striking image of a man wielding a hammer and “breaking Mary’s nose” to the ferocity of St. Felicitas’s statue being shot until “eight bullets pierced her plastered body,“ Frank highlights her acute awareness of how women, and their likenesses, are brutalized. While examining the extent to which violence and grief can immobilize us so that “we feel the wounds become stone,” Frank also underscores what it means to have the universal human desire to remain living even after we die: to be immortalized through various acts of creation (e.g. Michelangelo’s sculpture and the poet’s own composition); and, paradoxically, through acts of destruction (the atomic bombing of Nagasaki).
The interstitial space between the living and the lifeless, absence and presence, is often the essence of the elegiac; and, Frank’s poems constantly navigate these pockets of loss while providing cathartic tribute and memorial to the dead, the missing, and the disappeared. And, even though her poems address anguish and viciousness, they also vibrate with wit, desire, tenderness, and compassion. (For another knockout poem of hers that centers similar themes, check out her poem “The Girlfriend Elegies” in The New Yorker, October 2018). Also, definitely be on the lookout for her new book Oh You Robot Saints! forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon Press next year, Spring 2021, where the poem published here will appear.