The Unexploded Ordnance Bin by Rebecca Foust
Inside each of us are hidden bombs waiting to detonate. These secrets, illnesses, fears, obsessions, desires, accidents, and political animus are revealed and exploded in Rebecca Foust’s newest book.
Winner of the 2018 Swan Scythe Press chapbook contest and published in late 2019, The Unexploded Ordnance Bin is a collection of tightly wound poems. Aptly named, each poem is a ticking bomb that bursts open upon reading, searing the reader with ordinary images and situations made precious by their destruction.
Foust organizes her poems into three sections: the first concerns family life and how neural divergence and physical injury tear apart traditional notions of family roles and future expectations. Those expectations are beautifully catalogued in “Everything Golden is Spilled,” in which Foust lovingly details the pleasures and minutia of motherhood, and utter adoration of the baby:
You were born and your hour was silver,
new moonlight strewn
on dark ground. Pearls, seeds, wide banks
of clouds, your bright hair,
your damp, sleeping lap-weight, scalp’s
yolky chuff, tug at the nipple
This garden of motherly delights is slicked with subtle near- and slant-rhyme music: moon/strewn, ground/clouds, chuff/tug, which moves the reader through the poem gracefully, pulling us gently into the same swoon.
In her poem “Compound. Depressed. Fracture.” she asks, “How can a mother tend to her orchard?” A mother’s son is living in a cardboard box, and the box is hit by a bus. The boy was seriously injured, and the mother suffers emotional trauma as she watches the son heal, fall, and re-injure himself. How can a parent, in the necessary act of allowing your child to grow up and separate from you, protect and defend against destruction? It seems inevitable.
Yet in Foust’s world, even destruction can have beauty. The boy’s skin, a remnant apparently left behind after the accident, resembles “a wet petal translucent on pavement.” For me, at least, this image is an echo of Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” There is a surprising power in the comparison of an item so seemingly mundane (skin/faces of strangers) with the most delicate part of a flower, and for that body part to be detached literally or figuratively from its whole is a reminder of how fragile we all are.
The second section expands its focus to include an examination of the misery and devastation caused by bigotry and political power in the larger world. It is a meditation of lament and serves as a requiem for various lives (mostly children’s) that are devalued and lost in the capitalist, greed-driven, might-makes-right norm that is contemporary global culture.
Several poems, including “Remembrance of Things Past” and the gut-wrenching “Requiem Mass for the Yuma Fourteen” address immigration into the United States and how many immigrants suffer and die during their journeys, and how those who survive are scarred. Other poems mourn victims of political violence in other countries, such as Syria and Palestine.
Another beautiful baby opens the section in “Miguel,” the child of an immigrant “and no, she doesn’t have papers.” The baby is “perfection,” yet the speaker cannot help but think of the terrible future so many other immigrants to this country face. She compares Miguel to her own son,
who under Hitler might have worn the black badge
of the mentally impaired and been euthanized.
When Miguel visits again I can’t see him
without remembering the photos taken by my father,
an army medic at Dachau…
The layers of similarity between Nazi policy and ICE/US policy are illustrated in the speaker’s discomfort with the contrast between herself, securely homed within a “picket-fenced yard” and the baby and his mother in their tenuous safety. It allows Foust to bring us to an explosive comparison: The ICE deportation centers that rudely warehouse immigrants to the US are horrifyingly like the concentration camps like Dachau.
Finally, the third section returns to the family, particularly focusing on the figure of a child who, as they grow up, is revealed to be transgender, shattering the mother’s expectations of and for this child. Although still a steep emotional journey, this section brings some relief from the painful grieving of the previous two. Indeed, the second to last poem “Moon” is return to a meditation on the celestial aspects of a child, one whose journey is not what the speaker/mother would have chosen for them.
Foust begins the poem with a sort of apologia but transitions quickly into an adoring, motherly embrace of this child’s new self:
. . . On the horizon
Hangs a moon, tonight’s fat fruit, tomorrow’s pale rind.
Shall I mourn one, seeing the other?
[. . .]
. . . Your hands will still be your hands.
You come in, sit with me, eyes meeting mine
while you teach me the pronouns.
I found this book gripping and shocking, perhaps because as a mother myself, I could easily put myself in the speaker’s shoes and share her stunned pain and confusion. The experience of so many things typically taken for granted (a beloved baby expected to grow up in the image of its parents could easily be a different baby torn from its parents and put into a cage at the US border) can burst a mother’s—and a reader’s—heart.
The learning process of accepting, parenting, and supportively loving all beings as they are is a daunting challenge for many. The shackles we must throw off are the expectation of traditional norms. Yet by the end of the book, Foust’s speaker rises above her preconceived notions and shows a way for the larger world to do so as well.
The mother is expanded, transformed; she accepts change and her children are still hers. We all experience events that force us to change. In order to survive and be happy, Foust says, we must accept these eruptions as the new normal. Once everything has the chance to explode and evolve, we are blown free.
I am looking very much forward to reading her forthcoming full book of poems, Only, from Four Way Books in 2022.
Title: The Unexploded Ordnance Bin
Author: Rebecca Foust
Publisher: Swan Scythe Press (November 5, 2019)
Rebecca Foust is the author of Paradise Drive and The Unexploded Ordnance Bin, released last fall. A new book, ONLY, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2022. Recognitions include the CP Cavafy and James Hearst poetry prizes and fellowships from Hedgebrook, MacDowell, and Sewanee. Foust was the 2017-19 Marin Poet Laureate whose theme, Sanctuary, attempted to give voice to and about immigrants in our county and beyond. She teaches classes at Mill Valley Library and Left Margin Lit and works as the Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change, an assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine and co-producer of a new series about poetry for Marin TV, Rising Voices.
Siân Killingsworth’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Stonecoast Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist),Columbia Poetry Review, Mom Egg Review, Ekphrastic Review, Oakland Review, and Mudfish. She has an MFA in poetry from the New School, where she served on the staff of Lit. She is a current board member of the Marin Poetry Center.
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).