For a good while it worked, this life
I made, these poems that made
wanting, not having, enough.
From “All the Little Clocks Wind Down”
Still Falling, the fourth collection from Jennifer Grotz, is a brief and impossibly rich exploration of loss, grief, and the unfettered will to endure. Though the collection is noticeably shorter than most full-length collections today, the poems beg the reader to slow down, to sit, to ponder and wonder at the depth of human existence. Grotz writes with an uncanny ear, again and again infusing her poems with rhythm and sound, effectively grounding her language in the same melodic ebb and flow of life that the poems address. The effect is, for lack of a better word, profound.
Grotz includes a number of poems titled after various months. Arranged chronologically, these poems help to create a collection that seems to span a single year. Whether or not this is literally true, the impact of the structure is such that readers share in Grotz’ growing sense of despair and loneliness as the losses in her life compound. The collection begins with “Staring into the Sun,” a jarringly tender poem about the end of a relationship. The speaker acknowledges early in the poem that, “I was leaving—the thing we both knew/and didn’t speak of all summer…” While readers might expect the ensuing months to be awkward or even hostile, the speaker describes being “cheerful at dinner” and how they continued to share a bed.
By the time the speaker climbs into the truck and prepares to drive off, her now ex holds her and waits until she is calm enough to drive away. This culminates in the realization that “Only then did we know. How it felt/to have loved to the end, and then past the very end.” This continuation of love is central to the collection, not only in the romantic sense, but as the speakers in various poems make sense of a world without loved ones. Grotz’ ability to reflect on the ways in which loss shapes our perspective of the world is unparalleled, and she moves the readers ever closer to her own understanding that she “didn’t want to go to them, there was no other/place to go, Earth’s the right place for love.” Grotz reconciles grief and love beautifully, urging the reader to join in her acceptance that life, however painfully at times, goes on in the name of love.
Still Falling is most often grounded in silence, sometimes in the comfortable way that lovers “sat so happily together/reading and not speaking at all…” and others when a speaker, wanting to “say something true but not despairing” chooses silence instead. “Greens and Purples,” one of the most contemplative poems in the collection, describes silence as “the single position that causes no pain” before insisting that “the end isn’t silent.” This idea carries forward to “In Sicily,” the final poem in the collection, where the speaker’s mother explains that she had
…once lain in bed
at the brink of dawn, very peaceful.
Very pleasantly, she said, for once
she felt no pain, she heard the birdsong
and knew death was right there if she chose.
This moment does not immediately precede death, but instead as a “preparation,” the mother thinks. Here, too, there is a juxtaposition between silence and an absence of pain, death and cacophony. The poems are their own sort of noise rising from the deaths and losses that proliferate the collection. And the silence, the unavoidable silence in and around each poem, insists on moments of peace.
Jennifer Grotz is a tremendous writer with a seasoned ability to get to the heart of lived experiences. Still Falling is sure to resonate for nearly all readers, as each of us carries into the collection our own losses and our own desperate need to calm.