“The First Telling” focuses on something rarely heard: the aftermath of rape, particularly as a victim recovers to become a survivor. Gill McEvoy doesn’t dwell on the details (and there’s no reason why she should: how much or how little she tells is entirely her decision), but draws on images to show the psychological journey from victim to survivor. In the title poem:
“When I get up to leave
It was never your fault.
All the way home
I mouth it to the window of the bus.
I mouth it to the silence of my room.”
It rings true that the message, “It was never your fault”, although repeated by the narrator isn’t repeated in the poem, instead the repetition falls on “mouth”. The message isn’t spoken out loud, but silently mouthed, showing how she feels silenced and unable to talk, not yet ready to voice her experience. The message is expressed in places where there will be no response: in the reflection on a bus window where she is both part of a crowd but also distanced from it, and in her room. There are triggers that send her back to her rape, in “a goldfinch bathing”:
“gold flashing from its wings
sudden rip through a slit of air
Similarly in “I go home through the park”:
“Burst of song. A thrush.
I’m back in the woods.
All over again. All over
again. Again. Stuff.
The bird singing.
Are you alright, love?
a woman pushing a buggy stops for me.
I wipe my face on my sleeve.
It’s only a thrush.”
The narrator does move on to recovery. The strength here is the lack of self-pity and the lack of desire to shock a reaction from the reader. The poems communicate, allowing their narrator to tell her story without interruption. They are an invitation to listen. The blame is pushed on to the perpetrator, where it belongs, but readers are not drawn to judgment and the narrator does not plead for justification or validation. The last poem, “The Last Time” ends
“I step into my new white room.
I pin her card to the mirror
where I can see it. Just
Readers see that the victim is ready to be a survivor, but the aftermath is still there. The telling poems have initial capitals in every word in the title, the others only start with an initial capital, reflective of a hesitancy. It’s not possible to simply close the book and move on from some experiences. Memories will linger just as a story’s characters (good or bad) may do. Gill McEvoy has provided thought-provoking poems whilst affirming that victims can become survivors.
By Emma Lee