by Francois Bereaud
“It’s the things you don’t expect to miss that hit you the hardest.”
This line from Green Card Girl, a prose poetry collection from the British-American writer Shannon Wolf hit me hard. In this, her first collection published by ELJ Press, Wolf takes us from a long-anticipated arrival in the United States and the subsequent adjustment period, back to England and the abuses she suffered there.
The collection begins a section called “arrival.” Here Wolf gives us the magic of freedom, coming to a new place with a new start. From “Just Happy to be Here”, the book’s opener: “I will be weightless in Lake Union … my fingers splayed in wonder the seaweed of my hair drifting in the current.” Wolf’s language is lyrical, and sensual, immediately drawing us into her journey. In “I’m on the lookout for hope,” she describes her transformation: “I feel as if I have wings like they were there all along, forcing their way up my spine and breaking out like applause.” In Wolf’s poetry, bodies come alive, her descriptions jumping at the reader whether it come in the form of an ode to her husband’s ass or the recriminatory description of her mother’s “brick-heavy breasts.”
In the second section of the collection, “before,” Wolf takes us to England and squarely into the trauma of her child and young adulthood. In “Elizabeth, Everywhere,” she tells her mother, “In me, there’s a hole, near the size and shape of you. As if you and your body had come running right through.” Wolf intermingles emotional and physical trauma masterfully, each blow felt in both realms. She doesn’t spare the reader the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father and I found myself getting choked up at these lines from “To Greg, My Domino’s Delivery Driver”: “Do you remember when you stopped by in the New Year? You were worried. I was sure I’d die in the flat and you’d be the one to find me.” If “You Can Never Go Home Again” is meant to be a caution against sentimentality, there’s no risk here. Wolf is clear-eyed and descriptive about England, giving us a portrait of pain and despair.
Wolf concludes the collection with a section entitled “onward.” Here we see her making a life in the United States, while also looking back at what she left. She’s not afraid to cut the cord with her father, but also keeps an opening for her mother, giving us the beauty of the lines: “I can’t forget the ways that you hurt me but I can forgive you enough to remember all this.” It’s those memories, those things you don’t expect to miss, which Wolf shares with us in her inimitable style that make this collection so rich.
I couldn’t put down this collection without a consideration of current political realities. There are so many seeking to enter our country, willing to risk lives for the promise of the green card. Wolf’s country of origin and skin tone, gave her an obvious advantage over many who are vilified, but that makes her story no less powerful. Behind every green card, there’s a human, a being with a story, often one filled with hardship and loss. Wolf’s story is one, shared by many and at the same time unique. We are privileged that she shares it with unsparing beauty.
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Francois Bereaud is a husband, dad, full time math professor, mentor in the San Diego Congolese refugee community, and mediocre hockey player. His stories and essays have been published online and in print and have earned Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations. He serves as an editor at Roi Fainéant Press and Porcupine Literary. The Counter Pharma-Terrorist & The Rebound Queen is his published chapbook. In 2024, Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his first full manuscript, San Diego Stories, which is the realization of a dream. More at francoisbereaud.com.