by Karla Linn Merrifield
Poetry and Prose 152 pages
ISBN: 13: 978-1-948461-01-6
Publisher: The Poetry Box
To Order: www.thepoetrybox.com
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
The Persian poet Rumi has written, Open the window in the center of your chest,/and let the spirits fly in and out. As I read and reread Karla Linn Merrifield’s new volume, Rumi’s wisdom seemed to apply. Psyche’s Scroll is about the Herculean struggle to meet the world on its own terms and unroll the scroll of experiences that, at the end of the day, prove the power of women and of poetry to light the way.
As I engaged the Foreword by Edie Seaver, I was reminded of the 1947 discovery by Bedouin shepherds of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I make the analogy from the perspective of the lasting importance of both discoveries! Seaver’s scroll-chronicle mesmerized me. Is the scroll a literal scroll or something else? If literal, how long does it measure? What does it contain? How and why did Seaver’s adventure become so impactful in Merrifield’s poetic narrative?
Psyche’s Scroll is a journey. Though my life-lens is masculine, I find myself identifying with several of our heroine’s important life-markers. Playing youth baseball, I was tagged with a new name in honor of legendary Yankees’ catcher Yogi Berra. That name came at a point in time when identity was important to me. In later years, I outgrew “Yogi” and deeply desired that family and friends rename me, back to my largely forgotten real name, “Mike.” Yogi was a great name at age 14, not so much at age 21 because it placed me in a category which no longer applied.
Beneath our receded brows,
inside our enlarged crania,
the primal urge prevails:
To name things, anything, every thing.
On a lark, we name that tune
(Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep).
We play the name game: What’s your name?
You know what’s-his-name?
As the Scroll unrolls, the poet’s developing thought is toward helping women achieve a balanced life. Eschewing easy answers to hard questions, she seeks to integrate mind, body and spirit. In and through poetry she discovers the delicate salvation of words. Merrifield admits to a certain ferocity of syllables. This ferocity is her ally in the face of childhood abuse:
I have a portrait of you, the poet as a young girl, carved in my memory like the scars from Daddy’s belt buckle on your back and thighs because you were to him:
Cursed at birth, . . .
When the curse—Eve’s bloody punishment—came on at age twelve, curvaceousness ensued, then boys, then further, harsher punishments to purify the evil spawn of Daddy’s loins.
Trust me. You will survive.
As can be noted, the poet is remarkably candid about dark places in what may have been her childhood, but is certainly Psyche’s:
as if to counter the keyhole image
of dad slapping mom, lashing her
with his belt, buckle into flesh, cursing.
I tape-recorded the whimpering, too.
In Psyche’s Scroll, you may meet some folks you already recognize: The half-snockered geezer, Ms. Smarty Pants, JoJo the poet, and Gizmo Girl. At just the right moment in the progression of life-stages . . .
An expert witness is called in.
A woman. Caucasian. 60ish. She’s wearing
black robes and red lipstick. Her eyeglasses
are wire-rimmed, circular lenses reminiscent of Lennon.
She takes the stand, feet bare, toenails painted Day-Glo orange—
From the perspective of one who is grateful to all the women in my life who helped see me through to the light, to cite the book’s dedication, Merrifield tells the truth about human nature. She imparts confidence to those of us who need to hear, it’s high time you slay some of those dragons.
Speaking of light and dragons, I offer another personal note: My ongoing goal has been balance in life. Over time, I have often short-changed my family in a quest to be successful as a writer, to gain one more acceptance slip. Often the people whose approval I think I need, neither know nor care about me in any significant way. Clearly, I’ve spent much of my life out of balance. I, more than most, need the light contained in this remarkable work. Dragons remain to be slayed.
As you explore the landscape of Psyche’s Scroll, you will be challenged emotionally, intellectually, psychologically and poetically. Merrifield does not coddle her readers, rather, in the long run the poet rewards those who possess tenacious minds, open hearts and unswerving faith in the power of poetry to transform life. I think of one of my favorite lines from Wallace Stevens’, Of Modern Poetry,
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.
Under Merrifield’s wise tutorial hand Psyche’s Scroll will unroll with fresh revelations of truth.