In A Map of Every Undoing, Alicia Elkort takes on the work of all of us who have been violated, hurt, bullied, yes, traumatized, in childhood. She explores how these childhood traumas inhabit our bodies and are carried into adulthood, where if we are unlucky we exist in disconnected dissociation, but if we are lucky, we find beloveds who help us move through the pain, the loneliness, the belief in our aloneness and move into a place of connection with ourselves and others. Her first collection of poems is stunning and is one of those “beloveds” that can transform us from a place of brokenness to a place of wholeness.
This book is a journey because we are a journey. We know we are in it from the first poem. “Imagine I am a ten-year-old girl…Virginity should be a construct of consent… I like the high notes where wind in the trees caresses the bruised body…Where nature lifts the brutal tattoo of rape, match cut to mountain…But who has not been turned to salt reaching for a daffodil?” Elkhort takes us journeying with her, exploring her personal wounds and her healing by superimposing it on survivor archetypes and mythic figures.
Throughout this collection, Elkort unflinchingly mixes the pain of life with the joy of life, intuitively bringing us into its complexity. Even when writing about her rapist, she communicates the layering that healing entails when she writes, “…the man who raped me wore a yellow shirt. / Every poem the complexity of the yellow that is the yellow jacket and the man’s yellow shirt / yellow jackets in picnic sweet tea, street signs, tender buds / of ranunculus, mango, lemon, papaya, yellow paint beneath.”
This is a woman who knows trauma, has lived it, breathed it, experienced it, and is making her way to healing. There is vulnerability, there is hope and there is recognition of the lasting impact of trauma. “Every part of her is holy, from bruised knee to dirty fingernail to the blush in her cheek.”
These poems sing in their musicality. They are written with a vivid intelligence that brings beauty to the tongue. Each line is so full of sadness and joy and grief and beauty that I want to quote them all. Elkort brings to life the power of healing trauma on many levels: the personal, the collective, the vast universe, and back.
In these revealing poems, Elkort doesn’t shy away from current realities and may say best what so many women are trying to communicate when she writes:
I say tell it
to the sky tell it to every man the sins
of every man come to vanquish her
name & step on her head they can’t look
in her eyes that gaze they turn to stone
how we turn to stone every time a person
asks what was she wearing was that vodka
she was drinking who does she think she is
to turn so much beauty & not owned by a man?
Reading Elkort’s poems feels like listening to a best friend, one who has been with us through the storms of life. These works are deeply personal and invite us to look at our own darkest secrets, shames, humiliations, and shower them with a strong dose of compassion. Who among us hasn’t been exposed to many small and large moments of violation? Who can’t relate when she says of these violations, “I swallowed it all until I was starving.” Despite the many harms she has endured, she exhorts us with “but the soul knows how to heal. / I write my escape, / blood drying on page after page / … who am I to speak of beauty? Who am I not to?”
Elkort ushers us into her world, reminding us that healing doesn’t happen overnight, that it is an on-going journey and may have many stops on the way,
“a shred in the fabric
of my own self-love &
when I crack like a chandelier
at the high “C” the pitch is exactly the sound of
you don’t deserve love
…the glory came shining because fifty-one thoughts
rode in on a shivering star--but I am love.”
Again we have this musicality and embodiment – can you read “shivering star” without a little shiver of your own?
In the final section of her collection, Elkort invites us to visit ancestors and to receive their gifts of strength. “They take your hands in their hands, caress your // forehead & whisper You are a joy to behold. A lark lands on the tree, calls out. //… & now there’s honey, a sweetness in the tea, a drop on the tongue.”
In each poem Elkort paints pictures to transport us, as in this verse, “There is a woman / who is a faun / who is a snake” or this,
“Here is my hand & here is laughter & here is solace & here is my house where I live by a tree
That’s when it happened.
I swallowed a murder of crows whole--
need to burp.”
Elkhort has done the work that grants her the right to these poems from the heart. She puts into words the struggles we face when we go into our interior, try to make sense of the past and the now and the future while breathing in the conflicting and confounding realities of our lives and our worlds. She says, “I am alone. / I fold to knees, / caress the water—there are always tears, / but who has not stood at the edge of beauty & / launched a taproot seeking rain?”
There are prayers to be found here, with jewels to examine inside each prayer. Spin this slowly, take it in from all sides: “There’s a hole in my back between the wing bones…the healer said my heart chakra leaks / light & the night flies through me—still it feels good / when someone caresses my back as if the breaking / never broke & night never fell…& any bird can launch from the nearest tree.”
If you choose it, if you allow, it this collection will break you open and take you to the next and the next and the next place of healing, whether it’s while “the city sleeps even though the bridge is luminous with illusions” or when you hear “…the sound of a cricket, slowed to a psalm.” I invite you – go ahead, take the risk.
A Map of Every Undoing is available from Stillhouse Press. For more information or to watch her two video poems: http://aliciaelkort.mystrikingly.com/
Kristy Snedden has been a trauma psychotherapist for forty-plus years. She began writing poetry in June 2020. Her poem “Dementia,” was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 90th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and she is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work appears or is forthcoming in various journals and anthologies, including Snapdragon, The Examined Life Journal, Open Minds Quarterly, Pensive, and Anti-Heroin Chic. She is a student at Phillip Schultz’s Writers Studio. In her free time, she can be found hiking in the Appalachian Mountains near her home or hanging out with her husband listening to their dogs tell tall tales.
Alicia Elkort is a poet, writer, and Life Coach. Her poems have been nominated thrice for the Pushcart, twice for Best of the Net and once for the Orisons Anthology, and her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She was born under the New Mexican sky and has returned to live amongst the juniper and pine where each day she is renewed by the still-life of blue and cloud. You can find out more about her coaching at Alicia Elkort Coaching.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.