Jennifer Franklin reimagines an Antigone for our times in her third collection, If Some God Shakes Your House, where filial devotion and ossified roles of gendered labor become the engine of her defiance. Franklin’s Antigone is ferocious, feeling, and unafraid of the consequences of speaking the truth to power about the political atrocities she has witnessed and personal traumas she has withstood. With a sensitivity that equally elevates the quotidian and the classical, and an attention that moves from the ancient ruins of Pompeii to the right of bodily autonomy and agency stripped away by our own Supreme Court, Franklin reveals the high stakes of our moment where “the one who does the judging judges things all wrong.” Franklin’s Antigone has embraced the sacrifice of self for something greater—a dual devotion to her disabled daughter and to her art. “For twenty years, I have been disappearing,” she writes in the book’s final poem, yet she continues to sing.
A suitable end to February—waking and drawing
the blinds to discover a bird’s head, stuck by its own blood
to the sill, outside the window. Thirty-three floors up, a hawk
devoured the body on the roof and discarded the eyeless head.
Its beak, long and curved, looks like the Venetian plague
doctor’s mask that hung on a red velvet ribbon in my first
apartment. The head sits, stubborn, a reminder of what
this winter has taken and what remains three weeks before spring.
As soon as I roll a newspaper and push the head off the ledge
to the stubby shrubs below, I regret it. The dried blood,
still smeared on the gray stone, resembles a daub of paint
a child tried to scrape from her thumb. On my first
organ donor form, I checked off each box except eyes,
as if there were some way to see, even after death
Urgent, tense, and fateful — Jennifer Franklin throws her voice in these taut lyrics and prose poems that view her own experience through a dramatic lens, the voice of Antigone come back to face the rockiness of our moment and the inevitability of death. This serious, unremitting book will leave you shaken by the furies, the randomness of destiny, and the gravity of life.
“Once I discovered / home was a lie I told myself,” Jennifer Franklin writes, “I shoveled the dirt to bury my life.” These poems — at once brutal and blooming — speak in the voice of a modern-day Antigone, a voice filled with soil and song, a voice strained by the burdens of gendered kinship duty and state violence. Franklin’s work moves across the boundaries of the mythic and the mundane, the mother and the child, the scarred body and the exalted promise, the prose poem and the sonnet, the womb and the tomb, the living and the dead. She instructs us how to hold ourselves and our beloveds — wretched and wondrous — through our living, dying, earth-bound days: “Anyone can throw // a corpse below the ground. It takes love / to prepare a body for the earth.”
Jennifer Franklin’s If Some God Shakes Your House reinvigorates our collective archetypes by marrying them to harrowing, personal, contemporary content, “Like holding a blossom that becomes the whole world.” Franklin’s weaving of the political, the intimate, natural and human history, and visual and literary ekphrasis is visionary, tragic, and grand. Each dimension buttresses and expands the possibilities of the next, and it takes all of it, the apocalyptic harmonies and disharmonies, to belt out what this speaker carries. At the epicenter of it all is the ferocity and woundedness of the mother. “Every ersatz saint knows / endless sacrifice / is suicide. For twenty years, // I have been disappearing,” she writes in the book’s final poem. The greatest artists sing through disappearance, and beyond it. Even as some God shakes her rafters, Jennifer Franklin sings.