The Lame God
Foreword by Edward Field
Let me warn the reader: It takes courage to read this book. This heartbreaking sequence of poems on the abduction of a daughter hit me like a ton of bricks, and I had to put it aside several times. But what courage it took to write it! Though there are many poems on grief, and even on crime—websites are devoted to them—I have never come across a book of poetry like this before.
I hesitate to mention a popular genre like “true crime” in relation to the high art of poetry, but The Lame God like that genre speaks with such power, because its subject matter is so unspeakable. While M.B. McLatchey’s lyricism here seems indifferent to narrative, and this collection recoils from the piecemeal reportage of the crime novel, each poem in the sequence draws us closer to the scene of the crime. What we are not told only enlarges the horror – and the pathos. With its controlled language and emotional restraint, I’m reminded of my acting teacher who used to say, “Actor weeps, audience sleeps. Actor withholds tears, audience weeps.” This book proves it.
Striking about the style is its dead seriousness. The tragedy explored here has grounded the author in such a profound, such a justified, seriousness that there is no room for anything else—no playfulness, no witticism—no relief, except in the cathartic release of poetry. In fact, it seems a heroic act—an act of survival—that she has sculpted these poems so austerely, and so appropriately like a Classical urn. I was surprised to find Classical references in poetry again, after they had disappeared for the past half-century, but they work! For in the violence of the ancient Greek myths, McLatchey finds an appropriate landscape of metaphor.
May Swenson, in her poem “Snow in New York”, spoke of the power and magic of words. Dealing with my own sorrows and terrors, I have always felt poetry to be a healing art, and it has helped me through my worst times. Indeed, the Inuit taught that the right words actually make things happen (in spite of W.H. Auden’s dictum that they don’t). Like a survivor of other horrors, one can never be reconciled to such a monstrous event as this book reveals. Nor does religion help much. Yet, in exploring such a grief through the language of poetry, McLatchey makes things happen—she gives a voice to those too grief-stricken to speak, and she refuses to allow us to suffer in silence.
It is a hard fact that, to the artist, everything is material. We grit our teeth and use even the most personal catastrophes—our own and those of others—to make art. This is what the Classical authors did, and this is what M.B. McLatchey has done with her great subject in this book. The effect is powerful, and ultimately, The Lame God proves that if our traumatic experiences don’t destroy us, they can produce masterful works, in which human nature rises to its heights.
Preface by M.B. McLatchey
In his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth insists that the poet’s subject need not come from personal experience, but it must become personal experience. In committing to a regimen of repeated witness in the world, the poet’s very impulses and habits of mind are transformed until, over time, the poet’s work becomes the poet’s life. When parents lose a child to an abduction and murder and then descend into a well of grief, the poet writes as a way to call to them until it becomes clear that she must descend into the well herself—to know the water level there, the damp walls, the underbelly of this abomination.
The poems in this collection are “well poems”—conceived and drafted in a pit of loss and rage, with its shadowy promise of redemption. The story that this book tells is true. No names have been changed to protect the innocent—the innocent have already seen the face of evil, smelled its breath, learned its customs.
This book is offered in memory of Molly Bish and in homage to her mother, Maggie Bish, who encouraged me to “keep talking about this; keep writing.” It is also for Adam Walsh, Amber Hagerman, Levi Frady, Maile Gilbert, and Morgan Chauntel Nick. It is for the roughly 2,000 Mollys and Adams and Ambers and Levis and Morgans that are reported missing daily to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; it is for Deb Cucanich and for the tireless case-workers at the Department of Children and Families. This book is for three girls held captive and abused for a decade in a house in an American city—but it is especially for the child who has not yet pried open a bolted door, borrowed a neighbor’s phone, and announced to a 911 operator, “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing . . . and I’m here.”