The Color of Goodbye, by Pattie Palmer-Baker, reviewed by Tricia Knoll

The Color of Goodbye by Pattie Palmer-Baker
reviewed by Tricia Knoll

Kelsay Books, 2021, 42 pages, $16.50
ISBN: 97819554353343
Available at https://kelsaybooks.com/products/the-color-of-goodbye

Pattie Palmer-Baker knows how to tell a story. In The Color of Goodbye, the story begins with her parents dancing while her father is home on leave in 1943. Yes, he’s going to war. He’s going to see livid things there ––and during later work in Iraq–– that he cannot forget. He will live them and relive them and will look for escape in a bottle of Jim Beam. And his story will inevitably become the story of his wife and his two daughters.

Over many years, daughter and poet Palmer-Baker found the voice to tell the most difficult stories in a series of poems. In “Devil Doll,” she and her sister play with Crazy Doll who maims and murders their other dolls. They hear a cork squeak out of a bottle and know Daddy is drinking again. Her mother sees the red lines mapping her husband’s handsome face. In “A Wish Laid Bare,” she drinks champagne while wearing a cocktail dress and considers what she might have become: an archaeologist/in the red-gold deserts searching/for artifact.

Out of love, Palmer-Baker’s mother becomes complicit in her husband’s addiction. Driving at 120 mph, he asks her for his bottle of Jim Beam. What her young daughter remembers is the “scorched yellow liquid” which her mother hands to him in the poem “The Hand Off.” 

Soon Palmer-Baker’s poetry builds to “The Color of Goodbye.” A black and white police car. Her father’s shame of being taken to jail wearing his blue terry robe. The poet’s memory of the purple sky on the way to provide bail. The color of pills he finally swallows. The black water that surges around the poet when she knows he is dead and that he called to say goodbye from a motel room as he is about to kill himself. “After My Father’s Suicide” is a poem that takes it shape as a tree, but also a mushroom cloud of woe for the poet who endures the aftermath of her father’s death.  

When Palmer-Baker’s mother dies, she buries her mother’s remains beside her father. The women have been inextricably linked after her father’s suicide. In “Church of Trees,” the poet states:

            The good don’t go to heaven.
            Their souls glide into oaks and aspens,
            maples, elms, and birches
            where they wind round and round
            until they reach the heart of the tree.

            My mother lives in a huge sheltering maple.

And in “The Hereafter,” the poet envisions not a sculpted angel with creamy wings, but a dark angel in a place where crows hunker below an ink-stained cloud. This force of love that had endured the trials of a war-torn father will finally lead the poet into rejoining her mother, Beside me my mother in flames.

The questions that remain are many–– for the poet, her sister, and her mother. Who loved enough and not enough? What does it mean if love is deadlocked? What did the daughter experience as the color of her mother’s eyes, her skin, her mother’s hands?

Poet John Morrison wrote of Palmer-Baker’s collection, The voice of these poems isn’t asking for sympathy, just a witness. Follow the colors, and you will be that witness. Hard as these stories are, they are told with great love in a voice that took the opportunity to look back with compassion, with scintillas of light both gold, blue, and black and shades in between. 

Reviewer’s Bio

Tricia Knoll is a Vermont poet, formerly from Portland, Oregon. Her work appears widely in journals, anthologies, and five collections. Let’s Hear It for the Horses won third place in The Poetry Box’s 2021 chapbook contest and How I Learned To Be White received the 2018 Indie Book Award for Motivational Poetry. Website: triciaknoll.com

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