No corner of Ona Gritz’s house is closed to the public. When Gritz writes a poem, she invites readers to sit at her kitchen table, on her living room couch, at the foot of her bed. She opens up her family album and shares not just the polished, professional photographs, but the blurry ones, the candids, the ones that no one knew were being taken.
Gritz’s confessional style often finds a home in the complicated and conflicting relationships, feelings, thoughts, and memories associated with motherhood, marriage, and divorce. In “Fever Spike,” a new mother sits in the bathtub with her feverish infant son, holding him close to her chest:
I’m telling my first lie to him, calmly singing Brahm’s
Lullaby in the heat of this moment as though no harm
could ever come while he’s in the cradle of my arms.
Gritz not only tells the story of a mother willing and wanting to do everything to protect her son, but also the horrible truth that no matter how tightly she holds him and how calm she appears, she is ultimately helpless to protect him from some things. She also describes this as only her first lie to him, foreseeing future instances of comforting dishonesty. The word “lie” stands stark, unsugarcoated, and startlingly close to “lullaby.”
“Family Bed” and “The Night We Decide on Divorce” are two poems that lie just pages apart in Gritz’s first full-length book of poetry, Geode (2014). “Family Bed” presents a poignant moment of unity among wife, husband, and son sleeping in bed together. Three pages later, we stumble into dissolution. “The Night We Decide on Divorce” depicts the couple’s son sleeping alone in his own bed:
he breathes in a rhythm
mealtime, playtime, bath
like the day he rests from
and the day he expects
We move from the bedroom into Gritz’s childhood closet, that place where things are buried and forgotten, sometimes on purpose. It is in this intensely personal space that we learn about a particular secret from her childhood—the brace that she had to wear to bed because of her cerebral palsy. Gritz explores the effects of careful privacy on a life with a disability, how her parents’ silence on the subject, and her ability to “pass” as a person without a disability, ultimately led to a struggle with fully realizing her whole identity, fully accepting and celebrating herself. In poems like “Hemiplegia,” “Night Brace,” and “Passing,” all featured in Geode, we see lips pursed together and a self split in two.
Gritz’s relationship with her identity is perhaps the most complicated one explored in her poetry. She cannot be easily pinned down or pigeon-holed, defined wholly by her disability or by her roles as a daughter, girlfriend, wife, mother, ex-wife, or writer. She pulls from infinite strands of experience, memory, thoughts, feelings, impulses and creativity. One of Gritz’s most breathtaking confessions and portraits comes in the form of a poem called “Precedent,” which depicts a twelve year old girl riding her bike too fast down the street, and ends:
Breath held, flowered
banana seat digging
into my tenderest place,
I careened. Yet nothing
happened. No crash, no fall.
No wonder I do it still,
let dumb luck drive.
Each poem of Gritz’s is moving on its own, a beautiful photograph from her album. But reading more and more, looking at the whole roll of film from her stunningly perceptive camera, allows for greater depth of understanding and appreciation, adds shading and contrast, to the multilayered portrait of this stunningly authentic poet.
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