The Greenhouse is a chapbook of new motherhood. Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet explores what it means to grapple with the fact that one’s child is no longer a part of one’s body but a completely unique person. There is a strange duality in these poems as they present the reader with a quick succession of opposites, creating tension that builds and expands in Stonestreet’s diction.
Like our speaker, we must learn right away to let go of our preconceived notions of contradiction. The real truth lies somewhere in reconciling with paradox. Take, for example, these passages from the opening poem, “Like That”:
…and everything slipping, permeable, you/me
the least of it:
day/night inside/outside body/body
The language itself is calculative, theoretical, and yet the form is elliptical. The poems in The Greenhouse are tidal: they spread across the page and then recede back to the familiar left margin. On the page, these poems seem wavering and almost delusional at times, and yet are never uncertain in their content.
Several of these poems contain a multitude of voices, including our speaker who uses varying lengths of line spread across the page, the italicized voices of others, “step outside yourself, ma’am, and no on will get hurt,” and the parenthetical additions of what seem like a repressed inner voice, “(scared that she would walk out the door and down to the bar).” It is within these parenthetical lines that we witness our speaker’s most uncertain moments, especially regarding motherhood.
“Called” is a more self-centered poem. The lines are predominantly left aligned, creating a more focused feel. It begins in confessional form and evolves into a mathematical equation:
and I go
down into it, the hall again…
in the stitched-together minute…
…365 x night x 8 (new)
x 8 again (despair, iron)
x 2, x occasional, x rarity (fever, monsters, light)
Though we’re given the word “rudderless,” this poem does not lack direction. There is no flailing or floating, but rather a formulaic search for an answer, though one that will not come easily. Since language of description cannot handle the paradox, our speaker turns to the language of mathematics. Our speaker is declarative, and the tension between what’s known and uncertain is the motor that drives Stonestreet’s work throughout The Greenhouse.
The poem “Chimera” begins with a demand, showcasing this declarative voice: “I want them out.” And yet, the form changes here. Like “Called,” this poem is left aligned in tight, even stanzas. Maybe this form is an indication of a poem about the self without the child. “Chimera” is interesting because it begins with a scientific epigraph:
Microchimerism is the persistent presence of a few genetically distinct cells in an organism … cells containing the male Y chromosome were found circulating in the blood of women after pregnancy.”
This epigraph gives us a way into the poem that the rest of the collection does not offer. Here, we see our speaker in an incredibly vulnerable place and she lists her demands: “I want/ to be myself, my self/ again.” We are literally led into the speaker’s body: her bloodstream and brain. This is no longer the confessional mode since the reader has now become implicated: we are inside. We are also forming the chimera.
This is a collection of poems about growth and becoming. The voice that guides us through this unknown territory is dependable and a bit confessional, unique, and unstoppable. Though the form of these poems is intimidating at first, Stonestreet guides us to understanding, or at least understanding as much as our speaker does.
The “greenhouse” itself becomes a metaphor for our speaker, who “was a bubble, a greenhouse, a lens—” in the poem “After Dropping My Son Off at Preschool.” This collection asks, what does it mean to be these things—to create and create a new way of seeing? This poem goes on, “self being a place:// the greenhouse encompassing three things: a mother, a ginkgo tree, a boy.”
Placement of objects is important to Stonestreet’s work. Poems like “Flowers, Doggies, the Moon” set up equations and use this “occasional calculating” as a sort of causal analysis that continues throughout the collection. As a scientist or mathematician, our speaker works to make sense of the world by studying relationship and developing theories while still using ellipses to leave space for what cannot be described, what falls in between.
Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet is the author of The Greenhouse, selected by David Baker for the Frost Place Poetry Chapbook Prize. Tulips, Water, Ash was selected by Jean Valentine for the Morse Poetry Prize and published by University Press of New England. Her poems have appeared in Cream City Review, At Length, Blackbird, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, 32 Poems, Quarterly West, and many other journals and anthologies. She has been awarded a Javits fellowship and a Phelan Award and received fellowships from the Millay Colony for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.