Ready or Not, by Robin Wright
Finishing Line Press
Reviewed by Ryn Holmes, November 2020
A reader must indeed be ready or not to follow Robin Wright into her sensitive, plain-speaking new chapbook, “Ready or Not.” Ms. Wright delivers as she promises, bringing brave readers along as she tackles the big issues of life: birth, love, death, loss. Her title is at once provocative and apt, giving a clue to the themes of the consequences when living the fullest of lives. Indeed, it would have been easy for the author to cluster the pieces into sections under those headings; however, she has been far too clever to resort to such an obvious approach although there is an ordered progression between one topic and the next of each poem. For our purposes here I shall unify and spotlight those themes.
I begin with the brief audacious attitude shown in the opening poem, “Fringe.” Although she speaks of others with envy, it is clear this young woman is her own person and fairly bold,
…I stood wrapped in a leather jacket,
raked my fingers across the fringe.
No one is going to outshine her. Next thing we know, she confirms that by boldly asserting her needs in “What This Woman Wants.”
…I want you to want me
like wind, blowing through you
not stopping, not slowing…
That resolve falls to betrayal and insecurity in “A Night at Charlie’s Place” where she has come to watch her lover and his paramour perform together in a band. Here, she masterfully paints a scene in a somewhat shady dance hall/club, bringing the writer along for the night out.
…Nothing to do but
stop, adjust, try again…
His fingers press and slide the strings…
the sounds ring through…I down the shot and wait.
Through “Sex and Margaritas” to “Renters” and then “Side Trip,” we have a variety of experiences from the sensual to a foreboding that all may not always be smooth. “Sex and Margaritas” begins in an obvious tropical setting as the protagonists
…stretch out on the porch like fat
gold cats, waiting
“Renters” shows hope inherent in the first home together along with the bonding of impending parenthood. They are disillusioned by an infusion of the realities of life when
…The apartment doesn’t look like
the model. Bare floors, vacant windows,
curtain rods left hanging
by loose screws….
A disturbing experience in “Side Trip” casts a note of gloom as the attendant reveals the hopelessness he feels and how stuck in his life without options, causing a young couple to ignore his desperation and quickly think of the escape for themselves in their upcoming vacation. Yet they can’t quite forget
…says his wife moved in with the sheriff.
He longs to get away from this station…
We’ll swim, laugh, sip drinks with umbrellas…
But on our minds,
the gas station, the man, his escape.
Focusing on “After You Left,” “Breaking Up,” “After the Funeral,” “Services at a Later Date,” “In Memory of Randy H,” “Trains in the Night,” and “Alzheimer’s” provide psychological insight into direct and implied loss, including those of love, life, body and cognitive functioning. We feel the acute longing for lost love in “After You Left” and “Breaking Up.”
…All around me birds cooed,
as if they knew
your leaving didn’t change
water, earth, or sky….
She carries on indignant that nature has remained unchanged and fails to acknowledge her loss.
The Madrid Fault opened
her earthen mouth…
…but you escaped
“After the Funeral,” “Services at a Later Date, and “In Memory of Randy H” bring us to the graveside, in reality or metaphorically when unable to attend the rite.
…Uncle Mike, past but no longer present,
locked in the minds of those who viewed
his silent ash….
the soil, bury what’s left
of the flowers, push
my palms together, pretend
I know how to pray.
…Forty years later the local paper
spun your obituary, weaving the fabric
of your life….
Most immediate and relatable to those of a certain age are the losses of body characteristics and cognitive functioning bringing confusion, disorganization and death, “Trains in the Night” and Alzheimer’s
…The train’s requiem slow, sorrowful;
a low moan cried through the bruised night.
As a side note, “Alzheimer’s” has multiple color references, including blue, black, gray, red, yellow. The subject is rightfully befuddled
You stand on the sidewalk, head down,
staring at your shirt….
You reach out your hand,
pull it back
from what you once knew.
The final three pieces are not readily categorized and are about different subjects.
“Runaway” is about random sexual encounters and paints a grim picture with an inference of having witnessed domestic violence.
since she watched her mother paint
lipstick over swollen lips….
She lights a Lucky
Strike as he jerks o pats, leaves
her slumped on the edge
of the bed, damp with sweat,
dirty with memories….
“Like This” was perplexing to parse as it contains many themes within its 18 lines including digital tracking/spying, mental illness/paranoia, parental concern for a child and duplicity by a parent. It isn’t a tight fit into the themes of the other pieces.
…He’s upset about a Wisconsin company
ready to implant microchips
in hands, to unlock doors,
make a purchase, track location…
A rice-sized pellet injected
into a hand …
like the one I’m using
to hold my phone.
Finally, I saved the ephemeral “Ghost Orchid” for last because I felt its erotic message of hope makes a lovely coda to the chapbook and, if in actuality had been the final piece, would have perfectly bookended the others.
Those few weeks of summer
after the sphinx moth strokes you with its tongue,
your slender white petals float from thin stems,
drifting in air, no leaves for a partner,
while your dark roots, barely visible, cling
to cypress, pop ash, or pond apple trees,
never touching ground, never appearing
connected to the earth.
Ms. Wright writes of profound topics with a light touch that manages to project safety. She kindly balances love with loss, life with death managing to trustfully deliver them. And finally, she is an admirable master of a definitive and tidy stanza closure.
For previous chapbook reviews, please visit: Previous Chapbook Reviews