You got it wrong, Mama. She knows I built the bower
for her and all the butterflies she will capture.
- From “The Bower” by Connie Voisine
Rarely have I ever seen the characters and faultlines of my home country portrayed with such respect and tenderness than in this collection from Chicago’s Connie Voisine. Structured as a book-length poem, the poet captures the essence of the place in her opening lines where her daughter ‘…sang for me/without shyness’ a gorgeous Scottish ballad. Here, the wisdom and acceptance of children and the failings of us as adults are painted sharply and resonate throughout ‘the Bower’.
The daughter’s eyes are a wonderful vehicle fully exploited by the poet yet never to the point of exhaustion. That childish brio drinks in the wonders of flags and drums and studiously ignores the bottle of urine at a sectarian march.
The Bower is a constant motif throughout the collection. It appears to be a shifting symbol of what we want to construct for our children and what life inevitably takes apart; much like the carefully shaped bonfires that are annually torched on the streets of the poet’s adopted city.
Voisine asks herself and us constantly how we can protect our children from the stark realities of this world. When she recalls a visit to Derry’s embattled walls she notes:
“Kids love a cannon—the wood wheel
is a ladder, scoot up, or slide down the barrel. Atop one might see
over the wall to a mural of a schoolgirl killed in recent wars,
the words D can’t yet care about (how could I make it so
she never needed to?)”
In these lines, and throughout the work, it becomes apparent that we can’t and perhaps, as her daughter revels in the tamed ferocity of that repurposed weapon, we don’t need to.
“What will she remember? What will you?”