Visiting Hours
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
ISBN: 978-1622883127
Stephen F Austin University Press, March 12, 2020
96 pages, paperback, $20.00

 

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum’s second collection of poetry, Visiting Hours, is a testament to the struggles of grief and a plea to heal from the loss of a beloved who committed suicide at the age of 19. Dedicated to Mary Interlandi (1984-2003) and centered around her death, the collection apotheosizes her, giving voice to the otherwise silent; invoking her persona within some of the poems in the collection and reflecting on the poet’s memories made with Mary in other poems. While imagining a world where Mary is alive, the poet yearns to have had a chance to say goodbye.

The collectionas three distinct sections. Marysarias, the first section of the collection, reconciles the past with the present. It is the most haunting section of the collection where every poem is a lament for Mary. From “Marysarias,” for example, the poet resurrects memories of Mary by revisiting their old stomping grounds:

“Tell me what brings us here seventeen years after the fact…

 

What calls me into the night descending

Like a mourning veil across the city?

No pedestrians, no wind.

No jets sighing overhead.

 

Just the white-hot glow of a glass elevator

Tracing the spine of the Renaissance Hotel…

 

The distant ant-like outlines of its passengers

Small silhouettes of Mary and me…

Leaning with our foreheads pressed to the cool, curved glass.”

The title poem, “Visiting Hours,” also found in the first section of the collection, is a long elegy split into eight parts, each part taking on a different form. It is striking and meaningful to see lineated free verse followed by a stichic––a poem not separated into stanzas, where the lines are approximately the same meter and length––followed by couplets, and blocked text that carries anaphora, the word blame repeated again and again, all in one poem, eventually ending with a sonnet crown.  As the title suggests, this poem manifests time spent with Mary that the poet never got to have, where variation in line length and form plays with time, an imagined visit to her bedside at a psychiatric ward where she is receiving the help she needed. In tandem, McFadyen-Ketchum revisits some of their most intimate memories with careful detail:

“Standing in the doorway I held open,

I watched a rhombus of daylight scroll

 

Across Mary’s star-turned face, her eyes

Fluttering, the hardback she’d been reading

 

Perched like a little roof on the house

Of her chest.”

Speak, Sad Child, Speak, the second section, dives into Mary’s perspective through her own voice. All of the poems here are persona poems. It’s hard to tell if she is speaking from the grave or from the moments before her suicide. Both ideas can be justified in the imagery invoked here of a winter that seems forever freezing, it refuses to snow and only ice covers the Southeastern landscape:

(From “I Too Grow Tired of Winter”)

“Tired of cold now and no snow,

Tired of this rooftop, my life now of ice

 

Hardened over more ice

And time, as ever, without end.

 

I too grow tired of the nightsmoke ever-lifting

From gutter-grates, tired of the crepe myrtles

 

And live oaks stunted in rows

Along 7th Avenue and Broad…”

This imagery of cold gives words to Mary’s own grief like in the poem “Ice”:

What of the sycamores who once gazed upon themselves

In the purling channels of the Cumberland

And who sighed when ice felled them,

Antheming woeful narratives like paper-lipped oracles

As they drifted downriver––

 

Their snapped limbs the teeth of a death machine,

Their snapped limbs churning the bottleneck’s rapids?

While McFadyen-Ketchum has called Visiting Hours “Mary’s book,” the third section, A Star of the Sea, merges the poet’s voice with Mary’s.  This is where the poet does most of the healing and cleansing as the concrete setting of Nashville, Tennessee becomes more abstract and dream-like, where the rock quarry is speaking to the poet, saying: “at least you lived this long..…,” and Mary’s ghost is inspiring anaphora:

(from “A Brief History of the Living World”)

“Speak, she says. Speak,

She says. Speak, she

Says, she says, she says.

This section is also epistolary of sorts, ending the collection with a poem titled “Epistle,” invoking Mary’s persona again:

“Much like he’ll deny it was he who said,

“Much “We should take our own lives

Before we grow old…”

Most of all, these poems that conclude Visiting Hours are meditative and imaginative as the poet reconstructs a world and future with Mary absent. My favorite poem in the collection, “On the 100th Anniversary of Mary’s Death,” is a striking example of this rebuilding:

“No, no notice arrives in the mail. No, we do not convene above her body

in a smaze of visitation and candlelight. Her casket is not raised on a castered

granite slab. My hands do not grip its stone-cold edge. The cold jewels of

Mary’s eyes do not flap open in the dark. Mary’s cold hands do not press

against her coffin’s velvet ceiling. Mary’s mouth does not open into a scream.”

The poems in Visiting Hours are a meditation on winter, a memento mori, and a self-fulfilling prophecy; every line in every poem is a leap towards catharsis. Without these poems, the world would be deprived of Mary’s life and humanity.

Britny Cordera is a two-year Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a proud Black and Creole poet, descending from African, Indigenous, and French/Spanish ancestors. Her poetry can be found or is forthcoming in Xavier Review, and Auburn Avenue. Currently, she is in the last year of her MFA program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Cordera is Poetry Editor at The New Southern Fugitives.
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