Poetry Book Review of Amy Strauss Friedman’s The Eggshell Skull Rule
The title of Amy Strauss Friedman’s collection, The Eggshell Skull Rule, creates the perfect frame for her compelling poems. This legal tenet states that not knowing the fragile condition of one’s victim prior to an assault does not mitigate the harm that one causes. Friedman examines this evocative notion from all angles in these deft poems as she considers the fraught relationships of mother, daughter, spouse, and world citizen.
Watching the narrator peel herself back to her first hurts and deceptions, we are warned, “There’s always more ink than the skin suggests.” She calls herself “a riddle maddening and impossible,” an “unripe plum in need of some grace and time,” “pure canvas sutured over/re-stitched and ambulatory.” Therapy provides neither easy reconciliations nor resolutions, the woman on the couch delightfully complicated and relatable. “A year from now,” she speculates, “I’ll hobble off. / The color shift imperceptible.” Presumably, bristling sheaves of poems. Bristling, not brimming, for their language is sharp and their contents often uncomfortable.
Everything about Friedman’s work is taut and fresh. Titles like “Autocorrect replaces Home with Gone” are so pleasing that we feel a pang that we didn’t think of them. We race ahead, trying to guess what will follow. Even so, we could never anticipate gems like calling the tiniest nesting doll “the loaded bullet captured in the chamber,” an apt metaphor for a poem about intergenerational damage. Nor could we imagine that the title “Instructions for Loving a Daughter” would yield: “Paint the Picture Rockwell meant to paint / but didn’t. One of forfeiture. / Of swallowed / teeth.” We find no sugar-coating or sentimentality here.
Although on the surface, “There are no orphans in this town / where tomorrow’s always ripe / children sorted by manufacture date,” the narrator encounters “thumbtacks underfoot.” Parents and children flay one another, leaving wounds that hide and reappear like mushrooms. A daughter says, “I assume you’re out to get me / mother-whose-heart-I’ve-laid-waste.” And indeed, the forensic pathologist discovers the mother’s “belly full / of the chalk outlines of children.” Given the high tension of their interactions, mothers and daughters need to construct a workable geography between them, “an archipelago…our own small island to return to.”
The poems in Friedman’s book resonate together in a satisfying way. Poems about her relationship with her own mother and poems about mothering her daughter carry on a conversation. In the third section of the collection, the outside world enters in, but by then, we know it refracts through a particular, detailed history. We anticipate the weaknesses of Friedman’s eggshell, and thus can understand the buttons pushed by daily events.
In short, I highly recommend Amy Strauss Friedman’s The Eggshell Skull Rule. Throughout it, “We confront, we glass, we fragment…We advocate, we grace, we deliver.” Each day offers “A hint of calamity we deliberately mistake for grace.” In that willed blindness lies human strength. We wrench our lives into comprehensible stories. We heal through retelling—not just once, but over and over.
Amy Strauss Friedman is also the author of the chapbook Gathered Bones are Known to Wander (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, The Rumpus, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. Her work can be found at amystraussfriedman.com.
Title: The Eggshell Skull Rule
Author: Amy Strauss Friedman
Publisher: Kelsay Books
Publication Date: June 2018