Read This: Name Me, Poems by Kim Noriega

Kim Noriega's Name Me ($10, Fortunate Daughter Press) pulls no punches when it comes to detailing the beatings and abuse suffered at the hands of her father, lovers and a husband in this compelling debut chapbook.

While I rarely comment on cover art, the charming black and white photo of two girls at play and the heirloom-looking title plate do not prepare you for what's to come inside the book. Pretty houses often hide the most terrible secrets.

There is an astonishing amount of forgiveness in this chapbook and that's one of its strengths. Noriega can equally find the good and bad in her father, which manifests in the collection's longest poem, "The Sky, My Father," a litany of memories and pop culture reference points. From her earliest recollections to his old age, Noriega shows how deeply her father's life is entwined with her own:

My father, my stroke survivor.
My father, my Alright, I promise
I'll never die, my father,
my a little tired of living dad.

Being an abusive father's daughter leads to encounters with other damaged men as she grows older. In "What I Remember" she recounts making out with a boyfriend on snowy ground at age 16 (How we fell to the ground laughing. / How angels appeared in the snow / where we had lain) and then watching as he descends into alcoholism, drug addiction and abuse.

In "The Light of Day," Noriega tells her own daughter the story of how she and the girl's father stole pumpkins from a patch at 2 a.m. It's what she leaves out of the story that gives the poem its masterful  shift in tone from warm and fuzzy to fear and shame:

What I don't tell her is how my head swam with fear
all the way home.
He was drunk, but how drunk, too drunk again?
What was I doing riding down the highway at 90 miles an hour –
no foot pegs; legs wrapped around him; numb
fingers clinging to his leathers;
a huge stolen pumpkin on my lap?

Who would care for her if we made her an orphan
in an instant of asphalt and brains and pumpkin meat?

Name Me is both accessible and lyrical, but there is a creeping sense of fear the further in you go. Around every corner lurks unexpected violence, and Noriega's sequencing of the poems adds to this uneasiness. The closing stanzas of "Voila d'Amore" is a chilling example:

I want to end this poem
with a choir of angels
singing a cappella:

we can all be free.

But there is an angel
peering over my shoulder
as I write this,

and she is not singing.

While the collection could easily collapse under the weight of the seemingly unending abuse, there is  resilience and reclamation of self in the final poems that keeps it from falling into easy victimhood. But be assured, there is nothing easy about these poems. They will disturb and linger like a bruise.

Heaven, 1963

It’s my favorite photo—
captioned, “Daddy and His Sweetheart.”
It’s in black and white,
it’s before Pabst Blue Ribbon,
before his tongue became a knife
that made my mother bleed,
and before he blackened my eye, the time
he thought I meant to end my life.

He’s standing in our yard on Porter Road
beneath the old chestnut tree.
He’s wearing sunglasses,
a light cotton shirt,
and a dreamy expression.

He’s twenty-seven.
I’m two.
My hair, still baby curls,
is being tossed by a gentle breeze.
I’m fast asleep in his arms.


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