Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book Review (Poetry): Slamming Open the Door, by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno (National Poetry Month Blog Tour 2010)

Slamming Open the Door
by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

I never should have read this book. 

I never should have read this book because it should never have been written ... because the subject of these incredibly heartbreaking poems, Leidy Bonanno, should still be alive.

Leidy should be alive today, not memorialized so lovingly on the pages of Slamming Open the Door, a collection of poems written by her mother Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno. 

Her name is pronounced "lady" and her nickname was Ladybug - hence, the ladybug on the cover and the images of them throughout the book in illustrations and in several poems. We meet Leidy as a child ("Meeting You, Age Four"), as a nursing school graduate ("Nursing School Graduation Party, Six Weeks Before"), as a 21-year old victim of domestic violence ("Hearsay"). Her beautiful face greets the reader, and you smile wistfully back, only to be immediately choked by the first poem, "Death Barged In."

Death Barged In
In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shouders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck:
From now on,
you write about me.

As painful as it must have been to do, I'm grateful to Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno for sharing Leidy and her story with us. In each poem, in each line, she gives us every emotion that accompanies Leidy's death. We are there with Kathleen and her husband as they call Leidy's cell phone, as they drive to her apartment, as the police officer gives them the news. We're there in the flashbacks at Leidy's graduation party from nursing school, and we know exactly who Kathleen is talking about when she writes:

When Dave clears his throat,
and raises his glass to toast her,
we raise our glasses too -
and Johnny Early, a nice young man
from Reading Hospital,
smiles and raises his glass.

(This particular poem chilled me for personal reasons, because of the eerie similarities to Kristin Mitchell who I wrote about in this post ("Run Life Your Way: Remembering Kristin Mitchell"), Kristin was also 21 when she was also killed by her boyfriend, three weeks after her college graduation. I've met Kristin's family, and in his speeches, her father often mentions that he first met her boyfriend at her graduation ceremony, just like Kathleen did.)

In Slamming Open the Door, we see the full spectrum of grief, from the anger to the absurd.

Sticks and Stones
To you, who killed my daughter—
Run. Run. Hide.
Tell your mother
to thread the needle
made of bone.

It is her time now
to sew the shroud.
The men are coming
with sticks and stones
and whetted spears
to do what needs doing.

What Not to Say
Don't say that you choked
on a chicken bone once,
and then make the sound,
kuh, kuh  and say
you bet that's how she felt.

Don't ask in horror
why we cremated her.

And when I stand
in the receiving line
like Jackie Kennedy
without the pillbox hat,
if Jackie were fat
and had taken
enough Klonopin
to still an ox,

and you whisper,
I think of you
every day,
don't finish with
because I've been going
to Weight Watchers
on Tuesdays and wonder
if you want to go too.

When I signed up for the National Poetry Month Blog Tour being hosted by Serena of Savvy Verse and Wit  I had a different book of poetry in mind to feature. Then I saw this at the library, started reading it while my own daughter was selecting her books (the irony not being lost on me), and couldn't put it down. 

When I did, I realized that this needed to be the poetry collection I reviewed as part of National Poetry Month, because Leidy's story - that domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of one's background or education or anything - is one that needs to be told to as many people as possible. It's a story that needs to be told, too, because it shows us that we're not alone in our grief - that although the specific circumstances and details might differ, we have all experienced similar emotions.

Although, understandably, the majority of the poems focus on Leidy's death and the aftermath, Slamming Open the Door is also a tribute to her all-too-brief life.  She lives in the hearts of those who loved her, and for those of us who didn't know her, we get to do so in these 41 emotional and contemporary poems.

Slamming Open the Door is the recipient of the 2008 Beatrice Hawley Award.  For more information about the book and links to other reviews, as well as more information about Bonanno's other work, please visit Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno's website at http://ksbonanno.com/.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Serena said...

I'm glad that you decided to share this poetry collection with us. It must be very emotional, just from the few poems you shared, I know I would be tearing up.

don't forget to add your full link to Mr. Linky in my welcome post and to send it to winabook.

Thanks for participating.

BillMitchellKMF said...

Thanks for making reference to my daughter, Kristin Mitchell. She died at the hands of her boyfriend in June of 2005.

I will be speaking at Saint Joseph's University in the chapel the evening of April 15th (a week from now). I will talking about what happened to Kristin and will mention some of the warning sign of potential dating violence.

Bill Mitchell

OnlinePublicist said...

I choked up just reading the description of the book. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing Leidy's story with us.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This is chilling!

No, this book never should have been written; domestic violence never should have touched Leidy and her family.

Thank you for sharing her story, Melissa.

Karen from Mentor said...

Wow Melissa, the hair stood up on the back of my neck throughout your post. This was obviously a book that moved you greatly.
Thank you for sharing.
Karen :0)

Amy said...

Wow. That's potent stuff. Thanks for presenting it here.

Valerie said...

It would be impossible not to be touched by these poems. I was very touched. So well-crafted.

My heart goes out to the Bonanno family; and to the Mitchell family as well.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Wow. Powerful stuff.

Serena sent me the link to post at Win a Book, so I'm dropping in to let you know I've done that. I hope it brings more attention to this spectacular collection.

Rebecca :) said...

This was a fantastic post. I am thankful you shared this poetry with us. I was a victim of emotional abuse, which is bad enough, but luckily it never turned physically violent. I am very grateful for that. My heart goes out to Laidy's mother and her poems are heartbreaking, beautiful and poignant. Thank you for sharing. I think I will have to find this book now.

Doreen McGettigan said...

That was very emotional for me..whew!

Anonymous said...

This was such a heartfelt and emotional post, thank you so much for sharing!

BillMitchellKMF said...

I will be speaking at Saint Joseph's University in the chapel the evening of April 15th (a week from now). I will talking about what happened to Kristin and will mention some of the warning sign of potential dating violence.

I hope to see you there.

Bill Mitchell