You are in the diode archives diode v7n1



Review | Darling Hands, Darling Tongue, Sally Rosen Kindred

Tink. Tink.  Makes me sick,” Sally Rosen Kindred opens her chapbook Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. In a mini-volume inspired by J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories, Kindred fleshes out and animates Wendy Darling, Tinker Bell, and Tiger Lily to present a sobering panorama of attitudes representing modern American women. She explores the dynamics and mythology of motherhood, the desire to rebel against conventions, as well as themes of body image and self-esteem. In her skilled hands, the three characters meld to represent an overarching, feminine whole.

But, really, it’s all about the language, isn’t it?  How beautiful and colorful and musical it is, so appropriate for examining a fairy tale. Kindred writes in “Notes from a Fairy Autopsy:”

            . . . buds
            of loose glass stained
            and the bits of dark-wine shell
            that starred
            her blood, gone bronze.

And later, the immense power of her imagination manifests itself in “One Ending:”

            . . . tigers red
            as mouths, their soft paws smearing
            the sides of the house
            that is his sleeping body,
            their tongues a bronze door,
            this page
            their wild breath at the glass.

Her colors come off the sheet and lend a sense of three-dimensionality to the story.  It’s hard to believe these hues emanate from black and white.

With all the beautiful language and tight lines, it is easy to miss the crux of the volume, which addresses the ambiguity of a mother’s role in the family, and how that role draws various reactions during its different stages. The mother is an illusion in “What Wendy Darling Tells Her Brother.” “Don’t you remember / the smell of her . . .,” Wendy asks Michael. To underscore the uncertainty of a mother’s value, Kindred removes punctuation from the next piece “To Mothers Reading Peter Pan.” The Mom figure is at times a necessity, a longed-for individual, and an indifferent governess rolled into one conflicted whole.

Body image and awareness hold an important place in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. Kindred skillfully weaves certain images into the text to illustrate the disjointed relationship a woman has with her own body. In “Tiger Lily Leaves the Book for Now,” she writes “If my mouth were a place / the plot came aground, found sand, found / words rounded like wet stones.” Additionally, Wendy Darling states in “What the Lost Girls Knew,” that “I could be their island,” and later identifies her body as a “hot island” in “Wendy Darling Has Bad Dreams.” The idea of body as earth is a sobering concept, one which the poet handles with subtlety.

On the other hand, Kindred’s contemporary Jessie Carty meets body image head on in her 2011 volume Fat Girl.  Her characters hide ripped seams, buy candy and diet cokes, and dust themselves in donut powder. In the poem “I’m Trying Weight Watchers,” Carty writes:

            Next to me, a woman in a jeans
            jumper talks about using all her points
            to eat cheesecake and then eat nothing
            else the rest of the day.

While Kindred does not mention food obsessions in her chapbook, the impressions of her characters’ body sizes are displayed through the language and references to landmass. The women may not discuss their diets in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue, but their physical self-awareness is both painful and poignant.

The author repeatedly evaluates women’s family roles, and their conflict with the desire for self-determination expressed by both Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily. Even Peter Pan, the lone male protagonist, constantly analyzes his self-worth and identity through his ability to relate to women. His experiences are peripheral when compared to those of the female characters, however. This focus on understanding the feminine psyche also stitches Kindred’s 2011 full length collection No Eden, an examination of the interrelatedness of women outside the sphere of overt male influence. That the author persists in her subtle approach to sexual discrimination and body image is a hallmark of her calm voice, and the struggle to combat the resignation her characters constantly sense is threatening to overwhelm them.

Sally Rosen Kindred, with her mix of whimsy, imagination, and social conscience, explores the deep complexities of traditionally one dimensional characters. She uses their viewpoints to lampoon both the stereotypical stations of women and the mythology of motherhood. Their observations are uncomfortable, revealing, sobering. That the dreams of these young girls are entwined, and eventually crushed, by their roles as objects, caregivers, victims, speaks to us in meaningful ways. Kindred shows that even those whom we consider to be least valuable often possess the keenest vision, and utter the most profound judgments, against those who consider themselves their masters.  


Paul David Adkins lives in New York and works as a counselor.