"The Thing That Will Not Burn"

The title of this post comes from a line in “Keys To The Cages”, one of the poems in Incendiary, for which I won first prize in Arcadia Press’s Ruby Irene Chapbook 2014 contest. As a girl, I held tight to the place in myself that knew it didn’t want to be like my mother, caged and dismissed as a full participant in life. Concurrently, I flamed with wild passion for God, for sexual union, for empowerment, for answers. Despite, or maybe because of my coming of age in the 50’s, when men owned women and the nuns and priests of my Catholic schools decreed an ironclad set of beliefs, I fought the black and white. Outwardly, I co-operated; inwardly, I burned.

Married young to a man I loved and still love, bearing children to whom I felt deep intimacy and attachment, still I bristled at the constraints of my roles as mother and wife. Eventually I became a therapist devoted to helping my clients explore gender roles in families and marriages, and empowering women to take charge of their lives, as I had struggled to do. After my younger son’s accidental death in 1987, I turned to poetry, trying to name the pain that terrorized me daily. Grief burned hot and high in the pages of my poems, and in its rare retreats I began to reach back to the early cages from which I’d escaped for more material. I mined the matrix of my life for poems, attempting to make sense of my pilgrimage from idealistic Catholic girl to mother of a dead son.

"I’m no damn Pieta Mary," writes Brenda Shaughnessy in My Andromeda. A pious, saccharine Virgin Mother had been held up as our girlhood model, insistent on modest apparel and behavior, a far distance from males, submissive and chaste womanhood. Her son, Jesus, had died on the cross, and most strangely, portrayals of her response to this monstrous event were of passive acceptance. My own experience said this made no sense, and when I read Brenda’s words, I resonated strongly. Women need to be bold and fierce, incendiary, "no damn Pieta Mary," to inhabit their lives fully, in pain and grief, as well as in celebration and love. Being a wife and mother is tough work, marriages do not go smoothly, monogamy is not always embraceable.

Conflicts ensue, of course. Unwise choices happen. Nothing stays the same. Life is a crucible and we’d better be up to the burning. The poems in “Incendiary” touch on all these themes. I write to fan the flames, and hope my poems sear and pulse with what it means to be a woman in all her guises.

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Incendiary was a semi-finalist in the Gazing Grain 2014 Chapbook Contest, a finalist in the Poets At Work 2014 Contest, a runner-up in the Anabiosis 2014 Contest, and the winner of the Ruby Irene 2014 Chapbook Contest. It will be available in January from Arcadia Press.

Sharon Charde, a retired psychotherapist and a writing teacher since 1992, has won numerous poetry awards. She is published over sixty-five times in journals and anthologies of poetry and prose, including Calyx, PMS (poememoirstory), The Paterson Review, Ping Pong, Rattle, Poet Lore and The Comstock Review, and has had seven Pushcart nominations. She has also edited and published I Am Not A Juvenile Delinquent, containing the work of the adjudicated teenaged females she has volunteered with since 1999 at a residential treatment center in Litchfield Ct. She has two first prize-winning chapbooks, Bad Girl At The Altar Rail and Four Trees Down From Ponte Sisto and a full-length collection, Branch In His Hand, published by Backwaters Press in November 2008, which was adapted as a radio play by the BBC, broadcast in 2012 . After Blue, for which she won honorable mention in Finishing Line Press’s 2013 chapbook contest, was published in September 2014. She has been awarded fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center For The Creative Arts and The MacDowell Colony. She lives in Lakeville, CT. with her husband of fifty years.


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