Reviewed by Susan E. Morris

A beautiful story of life and love interwoven like stitches to bring a pattern together

The poems in thimbles address end-of-life sorrow, yearning, pain, and memories.

I can picture Nonna—thick hip, grey-blue eyes, the wrinkles between her eyebrows that deepen when she cooks, peeing at the base of an elm tree. She is wearing skirts and stockings no matter the occasion, revealing her battered toes, her round belly, the welts from her bra straps. I can see her emotions in her expressions, her winks, her smiles, her obstinance, tucking her gnarled hands into her elbow bends. I can envision the hard bones of her spine, the thick hump of her back bent from years of looking down, the angular lines of her hip bones, her swollen hands, and the child’s smile on her dusty rose lips.

I smile when I think of a 91-year-old offering a flirty lash bat, or a wink and a smile. I bet her handmade apron is unmistakable, and the chiseled why? lines on her forehead are etched in memory from the days after she became a frail bird fighting for life.

I can hear Nonna–singing songs from The Sound of Music and whistling. What can I get you? She half-whispers when she says, “It’ll take me three months to remember his name.” She lets out a long, satisfied “ahhhhh” after a gulp of vino. I can smell the comfort of Nonna’s house–like a tender recipe. Peppers, swiss chard, garlic, pasta & bread.

In this collection, I’m offered a chance to know her, and I’m better for it. She sips down whispers of complaint and serves everyone else’s needs. She is wise, and she is frank and expressive, and she is willing to share secrets of life with her granddaughter, the poet Vanessa Shields.

Nonna sacrifices and bears pain with quiet grace. She is inspiration and grief and love. She makes things last because she knows how to care for them. She is a gifted seamstress, the metal case holding her family together. She eats only a full meal at dinner because it comes with wine, her sense of humor quirky and entirely her own. Her soul is a soft shade of gold, divine and enlightened.

But then I also feel the tragedy of Nonna’s decline – the end sorrow, yearning, pain, memories, moans.

I get the impression Shields has ideas about how Nonna must feel about life, and at one point she is “prepared to gather her hidden complaints / but there were none.” This line presents an image of how life is a series of trade-offs and how in the end, Nonna can be at peace with her choices. Shields is still learning from Nonna even as she is declining from dementia and suffering to remain.

From: “later i ask her,” 

I nod and smile and lie 

because I love her 

because I want to 

keep her spirit 

here

While this collection could be desperate, hopeless, and painful, it is instead uplifting, a reminder of an irreplaceable person on their way out.

From: “i stare at nonna,”

I stare because it’s all I can do 

witness this 

tragedy of a body 

emaciated 

around a soul 

banging against the 

fleshy walls 

of its shrinking prison

Ultimately, the story of thimbles is of Nonna and her legacy. Shields carries the torch for her Nonna. She wants to continue her traditions and learn the skills Nonna knew. thimbles touches on how so many things about a person are unknown unless another person takes the time to ask and listen. It shares humor and grace and pain. We can see Shields’s grief and preservation of her Nonna’s legacy.

In “& there are days,” she promises to “keep you living on in me.” In “it is my responsibility,” she says:

to tell her story 

she didn’t ask me to 

and that is why 

I will

thimbles is a painstakingly beautiful collection of poetry of love across generations. I highly recommend it.

Publisher: Palimpest Press

Genre: Poetry / Grief & Loss

Print Length: 80 pages

ISBN: 978-1989287767


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