Until I Couldn't by Claire Scott


Until I Couldn’t is a moving and well crafted collection of poems expressing a longing to belong, to find a home. The poems invite the reader to join a world at times menacing, barren or lonely. Poems range from a childhood riddled with alcoholism and indifference through wrestling with meaning in a world with bumbling gods. The opening poem, “Moth-Hour,” sets the tone for the collection: “Miss Landon taught us the world/is round the world is flat/moth’s hearts fail/people fall off.” The poems describe what happens when “people fall off.”

In describing a childhood of swinging fists and boxed ears, Claire Scott writes, “I reach my hand across time/to touch the child./I listen to her sing/My Only Sunshine/with my one good ear.” In “Hired Hand” she writes of a lonely child who finds solace in the arms of a much older man who works for her cold and indifferent father. She writes of the world of a younger sister who feels like “An afterthought, a footnote in six/point type,” watching her sister get the top bunk while she gets “the broken Barbie with one shoe.”

The poetry is filled with poignant images: “sluggish bees slouch/but I wanted/futile and forlorn.” In describing the death of a father who wasn’t present, she writes “no glow in this dark/no stones of rebirth/for the him-not-him lying in the bed.” The title poem describes the anguish of a mother who can no longer protect her son with Burl Ives’ songs or a batman cape. An almost fatal automobile accident changes his life forever: “tonight a moonless night/an empty voice a blue cape/lost long ago.”

Despite the starkness of many of the poems there is much tender humor, humor as a buoy to rest for a bit, with a smile and a slice of sun. There are dripping gods, “wings wet with remorse.” In “Missing Gods,” she asks, “is there a third-tier god in a dusty town, maybe somewhere in Texas, standing on a street corner/holding a sign/Availible/will work for food.” In “In the Event You Die Before Me,” she writes of hiring “someone from Craig’s List/ or Central Casting “willing to shout/& scream for seven days…offering $68 an hour, plus overtime/for weekends and holidays./Especially holidays.” The humor is woven with a search for answers that always lie just beyond.

The darkness is never unrelenting or without alternatives. “So my mother was insane/my Father an alcoholic/my ex a sex addict/crocuses flash/through fresh snow/ a lizard scuttles long a branch/the first robin sings/for the sake of a song &/this is the only/moment when the sky/turns over the past &/offers a pure white page.”

The final poem “A Mote of Dust” offers light and hope for this weary earth, this “messy, greedy, contentious planet/and whisper names of love for/the only home you ever knew.” Relationships are the gifts we give each other. No higher meaning is needed for us earthbound creatures to feel alive.

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