Book Review

In 1974 two social scientists conducted an experiment designed to find out how anxiety affects attraction. What they discovered was that men who were asked to cross a shaky bridge were much more likely to feel attraction for the woman who interviewed them at the other end, than men who crossed a small, safe bridge. Millicent Borges Accardi has drawn on this incident for the title of her first book of poetry Woman on a Shaky Bridge. The idea that emotional states rather than reasoning are the real determiners of our actions is the key to understanding the poems in Accardi's book.

Though not the strongest poem in the book is "The Rattlesnake in Front of My House" is illustrative of this idea. Many people find it easy to relate to those very visceral feelings of fear that seeing a snake unexpectedly raise. The poem's speaker tells how she opened her front gate to see a rattlesnake shoot past her and that she immediately called the fire department to come out and kill the snake. Reflecting on this later, she acknowledges that there was no real rational basis for her action. She says "I felt bad/ since it seemed an okay snake...Never rattled or tried to bite."

It is not surprising that several of these poems that explore what drives human beings to their actions are related to war. In "Only More So," soldiers invade a house and watch a man's wife:

You see it was all so simple:
they wanted the smooth golden of her neck
the warm nest of her skirt;
her loss shifting like daggers beneath her skin.

And in the even more intense, "Ciscenje Prostora, " subtitled "Ethnic Cleansing":

She can't predict predict the hour
he will climb the steps, laughter
echoing behind him, his boots
scraping stone, his steps
following her mothers call.

In this poem war, sex and survival all coalesce:

Her skin beneath his, now
this skin that he uses for the rhythm...
Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia; the countries undulate
together while he dances the dance of the basilisk
thighs marching marching.

With this emphasis on war, rhythm, and sexuality it is not surprise that other title in Woman on a Shaky Bridge includes among its short list of offerings poems with the titles "Coupling," "For John Coltrane, " "Raga for a Full Moon" and "Prague," the last of which centers around the unearthing of skulls and bones in the midst of the city. Two poems are also taken from lines by poets, William Stafford and Stephen Dunn. Another poems with psychological and sexual overtones that probes the nature of fear is "The Well," a poem that can be read on several levels:

Trapped nearly two
days, a new plant's roots
the only arms holding
her back from hell. She struggles
to free herself-stand up,
to leave. To just walk away
and laugh. Now.
There is digging above.

Accardi has made a wise choice in keeping in keeping her first volume of poetry thin. There is always the understandable tendency on the part of debut books to try to stuff in everything the writer has written to prove she has a substantial body of work and is not merely a dilettante. Accardi has taken the opposite approach. The book is a lean one, but one in which the emotions tensions in the poems ricochet off each other, causing the reader to want to go back and reread the book as soon as the first reading is completed. Finishing Line Press, which publishes the book, has taken a chance on another first time that will definitely pay off for readers who are also willing to take that chance. As the blurb by David Huddle on the back of the book predicts, Woman on A Shaky Bridge is a book that can be read in a single setting, but whose images will reverberate in your head for a long time.