Eric Paul Shaffer’s review of The Silence in an Empty House is in the current Pedestal.
In the title poem, she returns home one day to find the smoke “alarms are sounding,/ loud and piercing,” and when she doesn’t know how to silence them, she calls the fire department. Beyond the uneasy relief of her husband’s absence, she is forced to confront the other facets of that new reality: “I think of all the things you knew about, the intricate mysteries/ of the house: the furnace, the fuses, the water heater, the radiators,/ all the things I don’t know and will have to learn.” She concludes the poem: “I…now find that the space/ you left is too large for anything to fill.”
Gillan demonstrates that there is nowhere we can hide from death when such an end is within each of us and suggests that the only way to deal with death is to salvage all the dignity, humor, and humility you can tear from the experience. Such an accomplishment is admirable.
These poems convey all of the horror of watching a loved one die, and the book is not for the faint of heart. None of the conventional thin-tinsel comforts of gods and afterlives are offered as serious consolations. In fact, in these poems, Gillan challenges herself and us by highlighting the tough ineradicable core of self, selfishness, and self-preservation that emerges when the fine grit of daily events wears through the pretty paint and comfortable curves of the lives we make for ourselves; finally, we must recognize that we are each alone, we live and die alone; and we’re often alone in our daily lives as well, especially when we’re suffering or watching someone we love suffer; often we even want to be left alone. Gillan displays this unbeautiful truth from nearly every angle, examining the reality closely with apt metaphors and ringing lines.
We may vow to marry “till death do us part,” but marriage endures as long as one partner remains. This book is tribute to remaining, remaining honest, remaining strong, and remaining accurate to what marriage, love, death, and our efforts to survive each of them means.
The Silence in an Empty House