“at the water’s edge” Nadia Gerassimenko (Rhythm ‘n’ Bones Press) – poetry review

At the Waters Edge Nadia Gerassimenko book cover“at the water’s edge” explores trauma, often in the aftermath of sexual violence, and life with a chronic illness. The collection is not as gloomy as its premise sounds; there are moments of playfulness. Initially the use of lower case throughout looks on trend, but it’s not just a fashion or gimmick. It reflects the sense of uncertainty that victims face: did that really happen, is this abuse? And the worry of being disbelieved along with the fear of being retraumatised by recounting what happened. In “age of confusions” a girl still under the age of sexual consent asks,

“you asked if i like dancing
& wondered if i knew how to drive,
i can touch you, you would say,
& we can go dancing together.
did you even care about my age?”

Later in the poem, the girl continues,

“you asked me for my number
before i would leave at the next stop.
i told you give me yours instead.
you recited numbers i did not even listen
as i leapt out in panicked haste.

what is the age of innocence?
what is the age of harsh reality?
should one be coddled like flowers in a garden
or trained ruthlessly like spartan children?
i cried confusions so much that day.”

Girls often carry the extra burden of policing their boundaries and warding off predatory behaviour. For someone still growing up and discovering themselves, being able to identify a question or action as innocent or grooming (offering compliments or gifts with the aim of opening up someone to eventual abuse) is not straightforward. How can the child’s need to be safe and protected be balanced against their need to grow and becoming independent adults?

“my body is not my body” is ambiguous,

“year forward, i’m in a cold whitewashed room, waiting, you probe & prod part of my body like i’m some dead meat. you show me off to others for kicks. it’s hard to be open, to relax. this reflex never passes.

i’m at the age of my own responsibilities, body & otherwise. i’ve learned all I can about my body parts, my body whole. i know what to do. i can’t – you govern my body.

you tell me it’s all my part of body & there’s nothing you can do. but here, take these pills. they’ll control some parts, for now, as they kill the whole.”

It could be interpreted as about illness and medical examinations. It could be treatment for trauma. It is about the sense of being invaded, physical sensations being separated from psychological reactions. The examiner needs the patient to relax, the patient can’t relax whilst being examined. The ability to trust is lost because the ability to control is lost.

“above below” starts with a play on the name Dolores, which was Lolita’s original name in Nabokov’s novel.

“i am not douleur douloureuse dolores
i am joie de vivre joyeuse joy(ous)”

Before a horizontal line, Dolores refuses to be defined by her abuse. Below the horizontal line, the poem continues,

“my world is six senses guiding heart on fire wet kisses wanted
childlike wonder limbs in pirouettes on body wild & free adventures
everywhere & everywhen twin flames soul mates past in past
present in presence future a gift soul unbound soul infinite soul
souled by soul.

above below
i un/tether
glue my soul
& my body whole”

This girl is a fierce survivor. Throughout the collection there are a series of “dolores” poems, inspired by Nabokov’s novel, Adrian Lyne’s film and Dylan Farrow’s testimony of her abuse. “dolores wishes” starts, “i wanted desperately/ that you believe me” and ends imagining that the people she speaks to will say, “i am sorry. i believe you!/ i stand with you.” “dolores doubted” also looks at the aftermath of speaking out,

“people say, ah, his art!
but look unflinchingly,

see it truly.
a genius is a predator.

our blind spots deliberately
refused to see.”

If the accused is famous or adorned with accolades, some find it more difficult to believe that such a person is also capable of abuse. It is devastating to watch someone win more accolades when a victim has seen a very different side to the genius. Some will dismiss the victim’s testimony because their experience is that the predator has only treated them kindly so they don’t relate to what the victim is saying. However, predators are perfectly capable of displaying the right behaviour to influence others’ opinion of them. They play just as much on bystanders’ doubts as their victim’s confusion over boundaries.

The image of the water’s edge with its blurred, changing boundary and fluid expanse encompasses the collection. From the title poem, “beneath the earth, our roots entwined reaching deeper for/ the core & beyond—to love, to nurture, to protect” and the motif of roots occurs throughout the collection; suggestive of the work done privately, internally towards healing. In “at the water’s edge” Nadia Gerrasimenko a coherent collection exploring trauma and its aftermath as a journey towards restoration and healing. Its quiet tones belie its subjects but, like a small stone sends ripples over a lake’s surface as it plunges into the water’s depths, the poems linger after the collection is finished.

“at the water’s edge” is available from Rhythm ‘n’ Bones.


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