I held you close like a good woman. Like all the women before me
who know what destroys and remakes, and what is destroyed in the remaking.
Megan Fernandes offers an impressive third collection with I Do Everything I’m Told, a striking and complex exploration of the human condition. The collection offers an unflinching reflection on love, candid revelations about loss, and a journey of self-actualization. Fernandes puts her technical prowess on full display as she navigates a collection of interlaced sonnets and erasure poems, once again asserting herself as a skilled writer with the ability to move in and out of form with ease. This is a book worthy of the author’s critical praise, further pushing her into conversations about the most poignant voices of our time.
I Do Everything I’m Told opens with the wonderfully reflective “Tired of Love Poems,” in which the speaker immediately acknowledges, “But we never tire of them, do we?” She admits that “What we tire of is that we never tired of it./How it guts us. Hot is fails, then reappears.” By the end of the poem, the speaker is ready to admit that when the poem takes shape, she is willing to title it “anything but Love, anything but what it is.” This reluctance to acknowledge love lingers throughout the collection, giving context to speakers heavy with the weight of potentiality.
This preoccupation with potential is one of Fernandes’ strengths, as she waxes about what might have been without ever descending too far into nostalgia or sentimentality. In “Shanghai,” for example, the speaker meets a cat. After this chance meeting, the speaker acknowledges, “It broke up my whole day. I had that small burst of fantasy/of our life together, me and her,/a new origin story that keeps repeating.” Similarly, “Orlando” imagines a different future inspired by “the few weeks” that the speaker was pregnant. She admits, “I have no regrets,/but I wonder if he’s waiting in the sky somewhere” before explaining, “but I believe poems can give form to the formless, that one can resurrect roads not taken in a line.” Fernandes’ treatment of futurity adds a unique layer to the collection, as her actualization stems as much from the imagined as the real.
The second section, entitled “Sonnets of the False Beloveds with One Exception OR Repetition Compulsion,” contains a crown sonnet that is easily the most complex portion of the collection. In this section, Fernandes juxtaposes loose sonnets on the left page with erasure poems on the right page. Each erasure draws from the sonnet that precedes it, creating a conversation between each pair. Fernandes situates the sequence in a series of cities, culminating in “Wandering Sonnet,” a palindrome which draws from the first lines of each sonnet in the sequence. The interlaced series culminates in “Diaspora Sonnet,” a poem which forms complete lines from each preceding erasure, only to descend into a closing erasure that draws entirely from “Diaspora Sonnet.” It is a difficult section to communicate, but one that is sure to resonate with readers in new and surprising ways with each read.
For me, the most powerful section is the fourth and final section, which is grounded in the COVID pandemic. Fernandes grounds the early months of the pandemic in a new relationship. In “May to December,” the speaker writes that “By August, we are sluggish with love.” The following poem, “Autumn in New York, 2020,” extends this statement as the speaker admits, “I get a cough. I take magnesium. I ingest chain link./I want to call you and say that crisis clarifies everything,/but it hasn’t…” As the section progresses, Fernandes writes through death, the tragic shooting in Uvalde, and friends moving away. She appropriately closes the collection with “Love Poem,” a title that immediately asserts the poet’s growth and renewed willingness to call love by its name. The final line of the poem invokes this growth, the speaker insisting “It was joy, wasn’t it? Even if it was ugly, it was joy.”
I Do Everything I’m Told is a remarkable collection that bridges deeply personal revelations with the universal despair that encompassed the world for much of 2020, that leans into fear and comes out the other side. Fernandes is a poet with an impressively broad skillset, one that is sure to render this one of the most talked about collections of the year.