Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow

 
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Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow by Peg Alford Pursell
Why There Are Words Press, 2017; 70 pp.
Reviewed by Chloe Martinez


The brief prose pieces that make up Peg Alford Pursell’s Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow give an impression first of dreaminess and rumination, then of clarity, precision. With impressive restraint and specificity, Pursell creates complex, distinct characters and moods in each of these pieces. She does this with a bare minimum of narrative exposition, making use instead of tone, diction, and image. Compare, for example, these two first-person speakers:

 

When I was young I liked to lie under the apple tree and think about the weather across the world, just beyond the setting sun. I imagined in charge a grandmotherly person with translucent skin, pale as rice paper, who ate orchids and wanted a kind word from the eldest son. Pools of pure feeling filled me. (“Weather of the World”)

 

When my romantic relationship of fourteen years broke, I learned many new unnecessary things. The way dust accumulated in a pattern on the floor of the empty closet. The texture of silence, how stirring the long-handled spoon in the soup pot echoed in the kitchen. The scent of the shower water bereft of the man’s soap. (“Girl on a Hobby Horse”)

 

Though we are given no identifying information about either of these speakers, they are immediately recognizable as different people. The first speaker takes a nostalgic tone (“…I liked to lie under the apple tree…”) and uses playful, slightly elevated diction (“…who ate orchids…” “pools of pure feeling”). The second speaker takes a pragmatic tone that conveys sadness, even bitterness (“I learned many new unnecessary things”). The diction alternates between poetic (“texture of silence”) and flat (“spoon in the soup pot”), as if in an effort to resist emotion. 

 

It is that resistance that runs as a connecting thread through the book. These pieces beautifully enact the effort to contain and comprehend intense emotions and experiences. What happens when circumstances—such as those of family, culture, or violence—prevent us from expressing or acting upon what we feel? Pursell offers one answer, revealing everyday objects and actions as charged with import. A grandfather is remembered as someone “whose last act was to eat a bowl of strawberry ice cream in the middle of the night” (“Day of the Dead”). A woman keeps a teabag given her by her daughter “tucked away next to her jewelry box on her dresser” (“Packet of Tea”). And a child endures, silently, a tense family dinner:

 

Under the table, the flimsy flimsy napkin. My hands without thought. Bits of
the paper sifted to the floor like tiny clouds.
Someone would have to clean them up. (“Shredding”)

 

Chloe Martinez lives with her husband and two daughters in Claremont, CA, where she teaches on the religions of South Asia at Claremont McKenna College. She is working on a scholarly monograph and seeking a publisher for her first poetry collection. A graduate of Boston University’s Creative Writing MA and the MFA for Writers at Warren Wilson College, her poems have appeared in The Normal School, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Reviewand elsewhere, and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.