These poems balance between the harrowing and the beautiful, hovering at the precipice where women are both horseback riding heroines and battered mothers striving to protect their homes, their children, their identities. These poems are knives thrown with precision, fairytales rendered real through the grit and dirt of the natural world surrounding their imperfect speakers. Social media helps us grieve our losses (“suicide, suicide, suicide”) and white rabbits lead us down the winding roads of our past mistakes (“Until / a man just became an escape hatch to another man, / and all the worlds were eventually the same”). Transformations abound in this collection, though not by any conventional fairytale means, as Shaindel Beers with her knife-sharp wit and even sharper intuition unveils the nuance within the nuance of any situation. These poems don’t just seek escapethey create their own worlds within the escape hatches and (re)build from there.
About the Author
Shaindel Beers is the author of three full-length poetry collections, A Brief History of Time (2009), The Children’s War and Other Poems (2013), both from Salt Publishing, and Secure Your Own Mask (2018), from White Pine Press. She teaches at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, where she lives with her son Liam, and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary Magazine.
Read an Excerpt
Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others
Because soon you won’t have any needs of your own.
They will all be for him. You will be walking to the middle
• f the lake, your pockets filled with all the prettiest stones.
Amethyst, quartz, peridot. All the beauty it could ever take
to drown you. The topaz and emerald of the water.
The sapphire and ruby of police lights.
Until you are as beaded as a twenty pound wedding gown.
And aren’t you beautiful? You are the prettiest girl
at the Harvest Moon Ball. Why aren’t you grateful?
No one has ever been so adorned with abjection.
There are so many women in line for him, each one
a corpse bride in waiting. Any girl would treasure
the feel of his boot on her throat, to pay off the court fines,
to hide him from the police, to say that they were your painkillers.
You wanted to know what it was like to have pearls
• n the inside. To wash down five, six, seven
all good girls go to HeavenPercocet
with the amber of whiskey. And he knew you would do it–
your drinking was always the problem. He knew it the first time
he saw you. Imagine if you would have tried heroin.
Boy, could he tell you stories.
Graduate school doesn’t sound that different from rehab;
don’t feel so special. You would be in the same place
no matter where you started out.
Girls like you are so easy
to manipulate. Because the bruise is already there,
he just has to press. Other names have already been scalpeled
into your skin. Look how you bleed these pomegranate drops.
Why aren’t you crying?
What’s wrong with you?
Have you gone dumb? Or numb?
This is like being married to a fucking baby.
You would probably kill a baby.
You’re the abusive one. You’re the one with anger issues.
No, what we should do is have a baby.
That will make everything better.
You and me in one person.
I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.
We’ll name her Pearl. We’ll cast her before swine.
She will be our savior. You don’t really believe
any of this shit, do you? It’s just a game,
but there’s no scoring system. Lean down so I can place
the medals around your neck. The medals
will weigh you down until I win
gold and silver and bronze, and don’t take any wooden
nickels though you’re lucky I give you anything,
you worthless bitch.
Oh, look, here’s the oxygen mask.
Here’s your chance to save me.
Put it over my face and let me breathe.
After Ken Fontenot
We were desperate sex in girls’ bodies.
We were girls mothers warned sons about.
We were handcuffed together to a bed at a party.
Sent home together in a cab from a field trip.
We were barns burning for anyone’s love.
We were lonely walks to the cemetery & talking to graves.
Blowjobs behind tombstones. Always hoping
to get caught. Always dreaming of escape.
We were talks on the hood of a car. Dreaming
up early dramatic deaths. Scared shitless
• f ending up pregnant or poor or fat
• r all three. We were learning to drive
a stick shift on gravel roads while eating
ice cream. Flirting for freebies from sweat-
nervous boys at restaurants. We couldn’t have
lived any different. We couldn’t have saved
• ne another. We were just trying to survive
the only way we knew how.
Reality falls away
Reality falls away – a voice says,
I’ve been sleeping with your husband
& hangs up. A doctor’s mouth shapes
the word inoperable. A gunman walks
into a classroom. The world as it was before
no longer exists. & you understand
all the ways of ending the monster
in folkloreBeheading, silver bullet,
stake through the heartare acts
• f mercy. The monster is merely a victim
who didn’t know change was coming,
didn’t want the bloodlust, was just
an actor being human, which is
always a process of losing humanity,
devolving into something else
altogether with each cell’s division,
each full moon’s gravity pulling
blood through the capillaries.
The sudden aversion to garlic,
to holy water. The inability to touch silver, to stand directly in sunlight
Today we would describe these as triggers.
Something happened, and now I can’t
Something happened, and now I’m
someone else in some other reality.
If you are reading this, please
scatter skeleton flowers on my grave.
Table of Contents
The (Im)Precision of Language 11
Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others 14
The Mechatronic Bird Falls in Love with the Real and Vice Versa 17
When we were knife throwers 18
One Gaza Family Observes a Grim Holiday in Wartime 19
Unfriending the Dead 20
3.22 Miles 22
The Secret Rabbit 23
The Interview 25
Self-Portrait as Rosinback Rider 27
The Drunk Cowboy Believes in Good 28
After Milkpour #5 by Jessica Plattner 29
Friends, 1991 35
There Are No (Simple) Happy Endings 36
When Lights Flash, Bridge Is Up 38
Last Night 40
"And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs" 41
The Bird Wife 42
The Scientist Explains Attraction 43
Philomela as Farm Wife 44
A Catalogue of Pain 45
How the Dead Return 47
Reality falls away- 49
My heart is a diner that never closes ... 51
I Am Not a Narrative for Your Entertainment 54
The Sin Eater 55
Is it Human? 57
The Con Man's Wife 59
Playing Dolls 61
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pelican 65
Prayer to the God of Small Things 83
First Flight 84
Private Property 85
Curious George Loves the Man with the Yellow Hat 86
The Old Woman in the Forest 87
Finding Place 88
When I Was Bluebeard's Wife 89
This Old House 90
Left and Leaving, 2016 99
After Mary Oliver 101
The Author 103
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There are books which clearly deserve the awards given them. Shaindel Beers' Secure Your Own Mask, recipient of the 2018 White Pine Press Poetry Prize, is one such from first line to last. Beers' voice is clear and consistent throughout the forty-two poems which form the book's four sections. Dealing largely with intense traumas and their echoing aftermaths, the language is intimate and frankly honest with no sign of hiding behind self-referential phrasing. The form of the poems -- a mixture of prose poems and free verse -- is not just secondary to the words' function, but largely incidental, as the poems' flow and rhythm move naturally across line and stanza breaks. Finally, the mechanics of capitalization and punctuation, as well as strong proofreading, add to the book's readability. All these points are critical to creating a successful collection, and Beers earns full marks. Ultimately, we have here a well-crafted, unblinking journey through horrors and hopes. There are, besides personal lessons for the individual reader, so many classroom settings which would benefit from Secure Your Own Mask being a major part of the syllabus. Get a copy, read it more than once, and share its beauty with others. ****** About the reviewer: Lennart Lundh has published sixteen books of poetry, two short-fiction collections, and six volumes on military aviation history. His work has appeared internationally since 1965.
So Beers has converted me. I've been dabbling in poetry of late, but I'd never read a collection from front to back. I did with Secure Your Own Mask, and it was a beautiful experience. I read a few poems every day, letting them linger in my mind. Some are chilling (dealing with domestic abuse) and yet still lovely. Some are simply gorgeous. An alluring collection that makes me wonder what other wonderful poetry I've been missing!!
Shaindel's work is the reason I read poetry. She brings grit, determination, raw emotional despair, personal glimpses of attainable joys with dark undercurrents of warning... the emotions I'd heard other people report feeling when they read poetry, but I had never experienced. Other reviewers are going to have more profound and eloquent words to describe Shaindel's words and rhythms and I'm betting they won't feel those words are enough, either. I can only say that you will be moved. You will be transfixed. You won't be disappointed.
Shaindel Beers’s poetry resonates with vulnerability, honesty, and sheer will. In language that is alternately lyrical and startling, she lays everything bare on the page. Her truth-telling takes the form of metaphor, confession, and persona, and all are equally compelling. Together they create a window into the physical and emotional lives of women in which many of us will surely recognize ourselves. The poems in Secure Your Own Mask plunge us into the dark and then lift us back out again. Though many of these poems are tough and raw, and tinged with loneliness, they are ultimately the story of survival, and within this collection Beers has laid out a map which we can follow through the mess and beauty of our own lives.