Year of Morphines: Poems
Betsy Brown is no stranger to loss. Breast cancer runs rampant in her family; both her mother and her thirty-two-year-old sister died of the disease and another sister has been diagnosed with its late stages. Her father also fell victim to cancer, this time pancreatic. The poems in Brown’s stunning first book pivot around the mechanisms we use in facing loss and fear — whether those confrontations are as wrenching as a bone marrow transplant or as confused as a brief love. In lyric verses with a driving narrative force, the poet depicts loved ones coping with illness, sometimes achieving recovery, and reshaping a family. From his hospital bed a father relates “the color of his pain-killers, / the in-and-out narcotic conversations / of the doomed.” A woman recalls Baltimore, where her sister received treatment, as “a city of doctors, messy brain scans, / slick cobblestoned lanes thick/ with Christmas.” She returns to the spot where her sister’s cremated remains were scattered, relishing “the secrets of ashes, / the clean wash of lake water / like all the nights we sat / with the little waves lapping.” An unusually intimate collection, Year of Morphines is both a heartbreaking portrait of the process of death and encouraging evidence of life’s perseverance.