Holy Moly Car­ry Me: Poems

By – October 15, 2018

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. 

Discussion Questions

In Holy Moly Car­ry Me, Eri­ka Meit­ner inter­twines the per­son­al and col­lec­tive into a pow­er­ful exam­i­na­tion of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Asso­cia­tive poems braid togeth­er the after­math of the Holo­caust, the ter­ror of Amer­i­can gun cul­ture, the Syr­i­an Civ­il War, atti­tudes towards refugees and immi­grants, and infer­til­i­ty to sug­gest that the strug­gles of our col­lec­tive pasts will aid in under­stand­ing the con­tem­po­rary moment. The collection’s poet­ics of oth­er­ness inves­ti­gate the dias­poric, South­ern Jew­ish Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence, one in which the speak­er is both neigh­bor and oth­er.” Holy Moly Car­ry Me asks how we, as writ­ers and read­ers, can doc­u­ment minor­i­ty Amer­i­can expe­ri­ences in their com­plex­i­ty. It is from this inter­sec­tion­al, lim­i­nal per­spec­tive that Meit­ner car­ries read­ers from despair to resiliency