“Falling Forward” is the first full length collection of poetry by Rebecca Schumejda and it does not disappoint. This beautifully crafted book, by Sunnyoutside from Buffalo, features the artwork of Ed Herrera. The stark imagery of a tree above ground and its roots below say a lot about what you will find inside in Rebecca’s book; poems which are culled portions of her life that shed light and reap darkness.
This book is divided into several sections with each one being dedicated to someone in her family: her husband, her brother, and her mother. Rebecca is not afraid to look at herself critically or turn that eye on her family members, all of which are still in different stages of grieving at the loss of their husband and father. She recalls her childhood in each of these sections, save the one to her husband, but even in that one she looks forward to the upcoming childhood of her unborn daughter.
In The Truth is Too Heavy, we find very strong poems about the quietness that creeps into a marriage in various stages of dilapidation, despite paled efforts to fix it, and a child on the way. It speaks to those things we all look for in a long standing relationship, things we think show that we have reached a higher plane of love, like silent explanations between two lovers and gestures of body that tell more than words, but time makes us realize that these are the pulled cotter pins from the grenade that lies in the center of marriages. Rebecca’s poems show us what is relinquished in communication breakdowns that can never really be gotten back. She crafts these truths in poems such as “Tree of Knowledge”, “Divorce”, and “Four Months From Now.” My favorite poem of this section is “Scrambled Eggs”:
“When you pull your toast apart,
I surrender my fork,
fashion my thumb and index finger
into a beak and pick at your crust:
this is how I tell you
that I don’t need anything
You stir your coffee
with the handle of a butter knife:
this is how you tell me
that you’re not listening.”
The second section in her book “Falling Forward” is called Folded Like Two Hands in Prayer and is filled with remembrances of her father who passed away, but these poems have a much different feel than those in a previous collection called “Dream Big, Work Harder” which is also available at Sunnyoutside. These poems have a more shared feeling. Many of them include, or are directly about, her brother’s reaction to the death of their father and how each of their adjustments to this loss net them differently, even when they are swimming in the same sea of grief. These poems speak to the challenges between them and touch on an unspoken hostility. This is pretty evident in poems like “Wet Paper Planes” and “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, but the most touching poem is “Workman’s Prayer” that spans religion and choices and hard love:
“That afternoon I understood
my father’s vision of god
when the sun’s haloed head
behind storm clouds
and the distance between
thunder and lightning,
father and daughter,
folded like two hands in prayer.”
In true form, Rebecca never disappoints and saves the best for last in a section dedicated to her mother called Overgrown with Weeds and Regrets. We see the other side to her emotional puzzle and can revel in the trinity of her family. These poems are strong in conviction and heart showing the degradation of her mother’s personality in the face of loss, or allowing this devastation as a way to give her mother a touch of grace. Rebecca tackles sensitive issues about regret in the poem “The Recipe Calls for Two Eggs”:
“Before she gave birth
she wanted more;
she spent hours blending watercolors
to match the intensity of her dreams:
magenta, teal, canary, violet…
Because before was easier—
she depended on preparations
rather than outcomes.”
She explores alcoholism in “Halloween Costumes” and “When the Check Clears”, and cold disregard for pity in “Evictions”, but Rebecca sums up the essence of her constitution in the poem “Coney Island”:
“I have never been afraid of tides,
waiting out storms, or aluminum cans.
I seesaw tabs until they snap.
I’ve run away from everything that
means anything to me at some point;
I always end up back where I started.”
Rebecca Schumejda is a valuable assest to the small press and to modern poetry. Her words are raw and truthful and she is never afraid to turn the mirror on herself and get the truth in return. Her work is emotional without being sappy and her language causes chemical reactions in the brain that make one think about how the transgressions of our lives give us character and ultimately make us exactly who we are meant to be. You need this book on your shelf, in your backpack, in your hand.