Megan Peak will be reading at our monthly poetry reading series, Inner Moonlight on November 14th.
Megan Peak’s debut collection, Girldom (Perugia Press, 2018), speaks to the way we can be laid bare, like trees no longer cloaked in snow.
“The world is sometimes stripped / of itself,” the poet writes in Once Full of Trees. “Laid bare and expected / to regrow. The same for us.” Peak considers cycles of birth, death, rebirth. Girlhood consists of seasons modeled after fierce acts of nature. Comparing the female body to a tree, we see it age, weather and stand. Trees are personified; bodies are tree-ified.
“Often, the location of the bud is the beginning / of a girl,” Peak writes in Self-Portrait as Stinging Nettle. We can trace the girl to the beginning of spring. Come autumn, leaves droop from her body, “vascular, saw-toothed, slightly barbed. / I pick up fallen ones, tear them at their veins” (Self-Portrait as Stinging Nettle). Unlike the natural world, humans understand the possibility of self-destruction. “Girls splinter like / oak after oak after oak,” sometimes of their own accord, sometimes not (Girldom as Spinning Bottle).
One girl looks in the mirror and sees that “she wears the underworld, / face flooded with trees, one great bone” (In the Mask Shop–). There is more foliage here. I imagine a blank sky allowing her particular character to shine, a shadow falling straight down, making the image harsher, more exposed. This is a girl who has grown and survived under sometimes harsh conditions.
Girls are set in a landscape of wasps and nettle, icy rivers and cold moons. “We are all / souvenirs of something—like the moon with its scars / of cosmic impact” (After Reading my Horoscope in the New Year). Girls grow consciously aware that they are marked by experiences of trauma and desire, fear and joy, regret and purpose. Sisters experience each other’s boundless multitudes and swim, either together or separately, in a sea whirling with tenderness and supreme sorrow. In paradoxical fashion, girls release their long-gone selves while seeking to reclaim them.
The poet writes: “I was more / like the trees, bound to shells of past selves, / and later—once cleaved at the roots— / to ring after ring of the wood’s slow eclipse” (As Girls–). The speaker is the girl whose selves continue to elude her. In a different poem, a girl stands before the mirror inhaling and exhaling “girl, woman, girl, woman” (Gulf Coast, 6th Grade). An oscillation one at the cusp of adulthood knows too well. It’s like Peak wants to isolate the stance and gesture of the girl and let those things speak to a sort of character.
In Once Full of Trees, the speaker believes her “dreams are too kind.” They show a world where the trees are all Spanish Oaks. In reality, though, the trees are chopped down, and the speaker feels like she’s likewise clipped of her wings. Dreams lie in the shadows of this world, ever-present, existing even after light runs away.
Perhaps the boldest declaration in the collection is this: “I was a girl before I was anything else. My name means daughter. / Means loyal. I can be a secret. I can be a twig-woman in the grass. / Small in a man’s yard. But there’s no air, under the magnolia. / No name for the dark inside a tree” (Suburban Girl Requiem). The hollow darkness, a result of being emptied, implies a question: If there are so many ways of being emptied, are there equally as many ways of being filled up again?
Each person gets to decide how to regain fullness. Poems, like photographs, with their edges as boundaries, are great at showing just enough information to make meaning possible. And that’s precisely what Peak gives us in Girldom—just enough to make meaning possible.
Megan Peak will read some poems from Girldom at Inner Moonlight, our monthly poetry reading series on November 14th.
Katy Dycus Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Katy now lives in Madrid, Spain. When she isn't teaching, hiking, or laughing with friends, she's probably writing for the anthropology journal Mammoth Trumpet. Or looking for the perfect avocado.