Puppies and Pelicans

First published on Whale Road Review
Winter 2019 issue on December 3, 2019

Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers
Winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize
Winner of a Woodrow Hall Top Shelf Award
White Pine Press, 2018

Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers should come with a trigger warning. With raw emotion and exquisite language, she shares struggles along the journey from victim to survivor, from teenager to mother, from prisoner in her own home to bird in flight.

Her artistry honed through years of crafting prize-winning poetry and teaching the next generation of bards, Beers skillfully weaves words into tales that leave you never quite sure which sing songs of her own life’s trauma and which spring from her imagination to tap into worlds of fairy tales and sentient starlings. Opening with “The (Im)Precision of Language,” Beers calls out the dichotomy of the English language while using it to describe abuse, teasing the reader with homonyms.

Throughout the book, Beers wanders from terrible truths to flights of fantasy. In “Friends, 1991,” for example, she acknowledges that “We couldn’t have saved / one another,” a universal plight of teenage girls trying to navigate between the morass of societal and parental expectations and their own raging hormones. The reader is left wondering how many of those girls, “Scared shitless / of ending up pregnant or poor,” metamorphosed into martyrs themselves on the altar of marriage. But then in “This Old House,” while discussing with her young son a knight using a sword to rescue a damsel, she asks the question, “What if the princess is the dragon?”

The slim volume should not be read in one sitting. Every poem packs a punch, demanding that you savor the succulence of each verse about death and life, torment and love, grief and joy.

Then, just when the weight of her words seems almost too heavy to bear, Beers teaches us about history, art, religion, ecology, language, and child rearing through “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pelican.”

Every single word in this book was chosen for maximum impact, the metaphors selected for their double and even triple entendre. Secure Your Own Mask will resonate with anyone who has ever known abuse, whether as victim, perpetrator, witness, or comforter. But it also speaks to those unscathed, helps them understand the scars left by suffering, the exultation of escape. It’s a book you will pick up again and again, each time discovering something new.

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