by Millicent Borges Accardi
70 Poems ~ 93 pages
Format: 6’’ x 9’’ ~ Perfect Bound
Cover Art by Ralph Almeida
Publisher: Flower Song Press
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
I was immediately struck by the title of Millicent Borges Accardi’s fifth collection, Quarantine Highway. It suggests an interesting duality: full-stop on one hand, unlimited access on the other. In a book about the recently concluded pandemic, the title itself captures the essence.
I believe it will be at least a decade, maybe more, before a definitive history of the Covid-19 Pandemic will be written. In the meantime, it is the province of poets to guide folks through the conundrum of an era still impacting our nation’s collective consciousness.
For a time it seemed we were living in a land (indeed in a world) not our own, navigating or trying to navigate life. It was a sea of uncertainty inhabiting two worlds. One voice commanded, “Stay in;” another screamed, “Get out,” or “Let me out”! My goal in this review is to showcase this poet’s unrelenting quest to capture this tension.
“We’ll Come Down Close Behind,” epitomizes Accardi’s title. I share it in full:
And such and we have
and we need and we want
and we have and if it happens,
we couldn’t leave, and there is not a
never in the universe except now.
And but and and and for and if
Our place to live, it is a song
let it run peacefully into
the coda or the second chorus
where the refrain takes over.
And such and such and the homeless,
And prisons, and why can’t I
leave my home without a mask.
We’d come down close behind
in the middle of a crowd, as if we
mattered and as if things were
normal rather than a new normal,
which is odious. Then, then and then
and could. Once, existence was on
full speed, catching rumors,
and touching faces and going outside.
Let me assure readers that the repetitions employed by Accardi are not typographical errors. Rather, they are part of her strategy to reach into the heart of her subject. It is like reaching into the trash because something that isn’t trash is buried there … she wants to find it, needs to grasp an elusive something emerging with it firmly in hand.
Note line 6: I count 5 repetitions of the word “and,” which is a coordinating conjunction. Conjunctions link related phrases and ideas in a way that makes sense. Why would Accardi use the term as she does? I encourage thoughtful readers to ponder.
Even Accardi’s titles illustrate her strategy; they tend to be a little off-center, like the world of her subject. Titles selected at random: “Side by Side in Fragile,” “For Truth would be from a Line,” “As Among Grotesque Trees,” “Differently, the Way Everything is Wrong,” and “I Told My Friend to Rub her Lice Against my Hair.” These are merely instances cited to show that Quarantine Highway is possibly the most unique Pandemic collection to hit the market EVER!
This excerpt from “In Oblivion,” illustrates (as do many others) how we felt:
It is as if the world’s engines
have ground to a frozen metal in the middle of
the midst inside a clutter clutch
of busy confusion and everyone
has been cast off, from the
blissful-working-gears we used
to down shift into.
The poem goes on to illustrate how …
We are ambiguous, a lost
part of speech, left behind.
Something my wife and I felt during this period was that of being cocooned like caterpillars. We imagined ourselves emerging as something more than before. “In Later Time,” is about a similar sense of darkness or half-darkness, a kind of swampy murkiness. “There was / violence in the air, and I kept asking / myself what is another word for suffuse?” This poem captures a certain labyrinthine feel common during the pandemic. Try as we might the maze seemed to keep on winning.
While it seemed to be winning, in truth, it lost. Emerging, as a nation, from the cocoon alluded to above, it is my conviction that the caterpillar has become a butterfly. Are challenges latent in the aftermath? Of course, but my take from Accardi’s bold new collection is one of hope. Accardi faces the hard reality of Covid-19. In poems that say what few others are bold enough to say, Quarantine Highway, inspires me to appreciate the good life offers. A literal quarantine may not be the worst quarantine. Do we not quarantine ourselves by the choices we make to cede our lives to evil?
Because of this poet, your reviewer is more determined than ever to live life to the full.