Blue Mistaken for Sky: Poems by Andrea Hollander. Autumn House, 2018
“Blue Mistaken for Sky” is one of the best-organized book-length collections addressing the trauma of divorce. The first section reveals the shock, disbelief, and dizzying bewilderment when the narrator is abandoned by her husband. She even imagines this betrayal from the point of view of the “other woman.” Her husband comes off as a bored dullard, unable to accept years of loving affection, and in need of a new adventure, as if he could start life all over again.
In the second section, poems return to the parents, analyzing their marital relationship, as if answers could be found there. This approach places Andrea Hollander in the tradition of confessional poets. However, neither her father nor her mother are truly accountable for her problems; their incompatibilities were distinctly their own.
The third section addresses what happens after the poet has sold everything off and relocated to an apartment in the city. The long-lasting after-shocks of divorce sear apart the scars in subtle but disconcerting ways. Here, for example, is how the poet felt when attending a “Garden Wedding”:
…There’s something to be said
for sitting apart on a late afternoon
after a wedding, something
about being what you can’t be
when you’re part of the party.
The flowers still bright and alive.
the radiant bride dancing now
with her father, I felt at the edge
of an essence I could not define,
the sun not yet blurring
through the hedges
This closure admits her dissociative distance from community, an ironic distrust and reluctance toward weddings How could she participate in a joyous celebration when her own marriage had failed? What was she doing there, anyway?
She is, nonetheless, still attractive. In the poem, “Music” she writes:
Was it raining? Was it raining
when he pulled the car to the curb
to let me out and leaned toward me
and kissed me not the way
I expected but as if we were lovers….
And yet “the rain” overpowers her. To start again, to become someone in a relationship after all she has been through, feels absurd, even funny:
And after he drove away,
was I that woman
who stood on the curb
of that crowded wer street
wondering if it was
music she heard?
That silly woman
who never opened her umbrella
as the rain came down,
pooling on the sidewalk,
rushing over the curb.
With the promise of marriage betrayed, and new relationships implausible, she finds herself for the first time “free,” and disconcerted by that novel sensation. In the final poem, “Pleasure,” she writes,
I walked back down the hall
past new paintings by my son
and stood awhile in my bedroom
admiring the brocade coverlet
I bought from my first winter alone.
its intricate stitching, its pearl grey sheen.
and slipping off my shoes
I lay down and listened
even though there was no rain..
Things that are her own – that “brocade coverlet” — invite her to a solitary life without having to compromise to suit another person. She will have to discover who she really is, all by herself. That “rain” of self-recrimination and doubt has disappeared. What will take its place?
At least that’s an optimistic way of looking at this sequential withdrawal from life. With marriage dissolved thanks to an unfaithful and indifferent husband, both parents dead, everything that held her to her past sold, living in a small apartment in a big city, alienation and distrust could also lead to a far more tragic conclusion. I hope not, because I know and admire Andrea Hollander; her poetry has been fearless in its honesty and breathtaking in its directness. I wish her the very best.
This collection reminds me of Colette’s novel, Break of Day, where the narrator [who calls herself ‘Colette’] abandons “la vie sexuelle” to tend to her garden in Provence. And any male who comes calling, she will try to marry off to a younger woman.