Erika Meitner’s Holy Moly Carry Me is a slim volume that taps into national conversations on topics including motherhood, infertility, terrorism, Judaism, school shootings, the 2016 election, and race. The poems feel straightforward in a way that adds to their urgency. In “Dollar General,” we learn that Meitner’s is the only Jewish family in her southern neighborhood, and her poems explore this sense of otherness. Assimilation creeps in: Meitner’s speaker — who feels autobiographical — pressures her husband to hang icicles at Christmastime, a cultural compromise. They also have a Christmas cookie list.
At the same time, Jewishness is on her mind and appears in daily moments; the camps come up in conversations with her sister. The words of Pirkei Avot slip in among reflections on mundane evenings of carpools and baseball practice. For Meitner, Judaism is both Torah and lived experience. It is a legacy of memory handed down. In “De Soto Park,” she writes: “We were the same tribe / of survivors, a dream country everyday in this state of ocean & oranges & tattooed Yiddish grandparents.”
But Jewish identity is not the emotional center of this book. The speaker instead grapples with the now-normalized violence we are experiencing in the United States. The poems bluntly recount the local and national crimes that trouble the speaker. These worries are mixed in with Meitner’s other central preoccupation: motherhood. We see the marriage of these tropes in “HolyMolyLand,” in which Meitner writes:
I ask my son what he would do if someone came to his school with a gun / I would take my friends & hide, he says. I would be very quiet. / My son, whom I carried that long summer, through the chalked & blood- / soaked streets of Southeast tucked into my body.
The desire to carry another child is interlaced through the book, as is the speaker’s self-damnation at her struggle with secondary infertility. This pain shows up everywhere, even in the image of the grocery carts at the store: “it’s late / December and snowing the carts nest / within each other to facilitate collection / are able to carry a child though I am not.” The length of the lines in the poems vary, though the tone largely does not. Occasionally more lyrical — “when it falls, / the snow sounds like sugar on foamed / milk,” – the poems have a narrative feel, talking to the reader without artifice or pretension. There are a variety of forms, too, from sonnets to free verse. Ultimately, what carries this collection home are not its formal elements, but a real, honest, scared voice pervading the work, asking questions like: How are we so vulnerable? How do we care for each other? How can we stay safe? Meitner gives voice to the fears of the moment in this portrait of a very unsettled American time.
Emily Sulzman is a writer and PhD student studying literary nonfiction at the University of Cincinnati.