A look back at Molly Fisk's The More Difficult Beauty

By Jane C. Miller

The More Difficult Beauty

Molly Fisk

Hip Pocket Press (2010)

Molly Fisk’s poetry collection is an intimate reckoning with abuse, and a call to embrace The More Difficult Beauty needed to survive as we age. Abuse is a language of silence. Fisk fills it with words tender and brutal, that warm us as they warn us of power’s ability to corrupt one and all. Here, memories, nature and war enact abuse and the hunger it breeds for safety, acceptance and love. Her poems in eight sections, click together like beads on an abacus, stunning us with her craftsmanship, compassion, and clarity.

Settings diverse as New York, Joe’s Taco Lounge and the Mekong Delta give the book a generous geography and time span. But it is through close observation that Fisk makes the small large and the large small. Epiphanies lie in the details, where the “swooping A” on a place card in “Forced Narcissus” gives us the opulent chill of a family dining room, where “if anyone spoke: the lace/veil of conversation.” Antoinette, for whom the book is dedicated, is her mother. When Fisk also declares, “what we name/belongs to us,” she invites her readers and the burdens they carry to the table.

Multiple points of view enable Fisk to speak for many as she keeps us distant or pull us close. “Women at Forty” facing a world’s indifference see “the spaces/between things…widening inside their bodies.” But in “Little Songs for Antoinette,” as she holds her tumor-ridden mother over the toilet, Fisk contemplates the man she will dine and sleep with later, knowing “my tongue against his throat spells her name.” Even with sex as a diversion, she cannot escape her mother’s pain or her own. Later, in “What to Wear,” that pain gives way to frank appraisal. Standing naked before a mirror, a recurring motif, “You look at yourself boldly, the way he would/from all angles.” This is new territory and you are in it.

But unveiling requires concealment. Fisk layers lists and description in service to revelation and metaphor. In “First Winter,” a young couple scrapes “calico/layers of wallpaper off a kitchen ceiling.” Fisk warns us “They don’t know how hard it will be”:

They scrape

until their shoulders ache, through decades

of paper, past all the college blue books, diaphragms

and operettas, past the damp palms of high school dances,

the caught frogs and molding petri dishes of third grade

to the smiles of their exhausted mothers...

She startles us with turns that force us to reconsider what we know. Benign objects take on heft. “Eulogy for Junior Mints” reflects the emptiness from abuse a mother and daughter hunger to fill. In “Daughters,” as a child focuses “to block/se