And Now, Nowhere But Here
Reviewer: Erica Goss
In her new book, And Now, Nowhere But Here, Andrea Hollander looks back at the complexities and contradictions of a long life. The poems in this wise and often luminous collection explore the aftermath of betrayal and its effects on a marriage, as well as the life that unfolds after the end of that marriage. As Hollander negotiates her surroundings, she must also maintain her autonomy as an older single woman in an often-unforgiving culture.
“Puzzle,” a long poem in the middle of the book, opens “My friend John wants me to stop writing / divorce poems.” The speaker affirms that she too wants to stop writing them, but there is still much more to unpack: “my ex’s / myriad duplicities, each like an almost / identical piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle.” Her ex’s deceptions are indeed numerous:
… each piece a woman
he met through an app or an ad, online
or in line at Walmart, Walgreens, even
The Home Depot. One in her twenties
took him for two grand and kept stringing him
along but never finally slept with him.
This double life he led, Hollander writes, “might be titled The 35-Year Deception.”
Puzzles are an important part of the speaker’s family time; she even has an enlarged, “Norman Rockwell” photograph of herself, her husband and son made into a jigsaw puzzle. Yet when she examines the image of what seems to be a happy family, she sees “the fine jigsawed lines and odd shapes that pay / no regard to content … // and the truths behind them obscured over time.” In “Puzzle,” a destructive force festers just below the surface of an innocent-appearing activity.
Assembling clues observed over a long marriage, Hollander recalls other moments that, looking back, now ring with the unmistakable certainty that her husband was leading a double life. “The Moment I Knew” begins with Hollander and her husband on a two-hour drive from rural Arkansas to Little Rock. On the drive, Hollander, smitten with a poem, reads it out loud to her husband. The poem includes a subtle reference to death, a tree, songs in Yiddish, and children dumping oatmeal down the drain:
A splendid childhood, the way I’d always felt
about our marriage, a thing created together
that would not otherwise exist.
Was my husband even listening? Maybe
he was distracted by the traffic on the highway,
the line of trucks passing, their gears grinding,
my voice almost hoarse as I tried to raise it
above the roar.
The details in the poem—that glancing suggestion of death and something unwanted, like the oatmeal, unceremoniously discarded, foreshadows the marriage’s end. “I must have hoped poetry would save us,” Hollander writes, but her husband’s response, “the face that used to turn / toward me when I read … // that face stared / straight ahead,” suggests the opposite. Her delight in sharing the poem falls flat; the impulse that would normally have resulted in a moment of connection reveals the deep fissures between the couple.
Two poems, “Portent” and “Aubade on the Last Morning,” deal with the ripple effects of betrayal and divorce. In “Portent,” the husband’s infidelities finally out in the open, Hollander and her soon-to-be ex attempt to exist, at least for a time, as a couple. She knows, however, that nothing will ever be the same: “Is the past truly the past / and not a harbinger?” In “Aubade on the Last Morning,” the end brings with it a mixture of relief and regret—the speaker lies in bed, reflecting, “If I don’t get up, the world will be // unchanged, a lie I tell myself like years and years of yours.”
In spite of the high number of divorce poems in And Now, Nowhere But Here, it’s not a book about divorce, but about healing and growth. Hollander challenges herself to embrace her new identity as an older single woman. As she writes in “Tom McCall Waterfront Park,” “I know I have to redefine // the word family and stop dwelling on the past or assuming / a predictable future.” And in “Monophobia,” relishing her hard-won autonomy, she lays out new rules to live by:
I’ll allow only my own voice
to echo from the shower, my plans
for the evening a choice
I’ll make at 6 o’clock. Each hour
after I say No (not only to men)
how brave I’ll feel.
A new city—Portland, Oregon, after years in a small, Ozark town—provides a fitting location for fresh adventures. Named after a well-known Portland bookstore, “The Painting at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop” reflects the uncomfortable feeling of disconnection we often feel after major life changes. “I’m more taken by this large oil of the bookshop / than by the real thing,” she writes. “I must be standing in the spot / where the local artist stood at his easel.” Transfixed by the image of the bookshop, she recalls that she often feels “unmoored, no matter where / I truly am.” That she finds the painting of the bookstore more interesting than the actual bookstore leads to an insight: “Often I’m like the painted version // of the bookshop’s owner in someone else’s vision of me … unmoored, no matter where / I truly am.”
Adjusting to living alone after having spent years in a dysfunctional marriage comes with its own disquieting moments. “So much silence. Like a certain / kind of weather,” from “Text,” describes a type of deep solitude, “that arresting quiet / I got used to.” While reading poems, the speaker remembers a person she was once close to; these reflections result in “the kind of pain my heart now / understands.” But then, her phone interrupts her musings:
… I’ve grown to like texts
for their brevity. Their no-nonsense
getting straight to the point.
Nudged from her reverie, she sees that the text, a simple “Thinking of you,” is from the person she had been thinking of just then. The threads of the poem join in an exquisite composition, weaving together the silence, memory, and that reminder of the outside world from her phone, with its “little / purring sound.”
The book ends with a long poem, “I heard the crows before I saw them flash,” another solitary contemplation where the speaker observes, “Snow promises nothing … / its whiteness / covering every mistake. Even / the divorce now seems a small thing.” The snow covers and protects, comforting the speaker, who sees a new beginning in its calm surface:
… I’ve got
that starting-over feeling you get
the night before school begins.
Something about the snow tickles her, how it creates “powdered wigs / like courtroom barristers in British films,” making the cars outside appear hilarious. “Car after car, they’ve got me // smiling, giggling—I’m laughing / out loud.”
That “starting-over feeling” is perhaps the most important message of And Now, Nowhere But Here. As the book’s title reminds us, we are never anywhere but here, and “here” is the only place we can start from. Andrea Hollander’s poems question our assumptions about what makes a life successful. They elevate solitude while celebrating the connections between us, fragile as the mistake-covering snow, and just as powerful.