Molly Bess Rector’s “god don’t like,” which appeared in Issue 4.2, announces in its opening stanza the reason slashes break the lines of the poem. Reflecting on the mother’s joky use of the aphorism “god / don’t like ugly,” the speaker says “its like a joke / the way a joke / can admonish / the cut it makes.” With these lines, the slashes of the poem become more than a flourish of punctuation; they invoke a kind of wounding, a cut that opens the hidden underneath. Thus, Rector sets up the mechanism of our reading: we’ll be tracing those slashes alongside the speaker, moving toward something, though we don’t quite know what.
In this spirit of this tracery, the speaker of “god don’t like” extends the “cut” of the first stanza: “the cut I am always / making / at my sister’s solitary heart / I cut / my sister / with a joke.” Recognizing the way her actions echo her mother’s, the speaker chastises herself: “every part of me / is ugly / all the way to the bloodied bivalve / the vulgar clam / I press.”
I’m drawn to this self-disclosure on the part of Rector’s speaker. She’s not attempting to hide her casual cruelty, a common enough feature of sibling relationships; however, the way the slashes bite the phrases into small pieces lends that sense that this disclosure is, indeed, a difficult one. The speaker is essentially cutting at herself, her sister, her mother to get at something like one would work a knife to open a clam. There’s something valuable to be found here. The next stanza helps us understand what is being gotten at more closely; the speaker tells of her mother’s fractured sibling relationships, “she had two / sisters / one sister left.” And, now, having seen this cut between sisters up close, the speaker says “none of us / want the pressure / of knowing / a sister can end / snap / like that.”
While countless poems have been written about romantic heartbreak, Rector’s poem is striking because both its form and content brings attention to a severing that is similarly devastating. Down in the trench of her own self-examination, the speaker struggles against her inheritance of sibling estrangement, willing herself to “bear down” to find the “pearl” that might be hiding within the “ugly” clam of this cut.
Opening the clam of herself, the speaker finds a revelation that sets her apart from her mother: “I believe / in an ugliness / god loves / so I will open / every ugly thing.” For me, these final lines suggest is it the act of making the cut to reveal the ugly, to bring light to the worst corner of the self, that allows for the “pearl” of realization to be found. Rector’s seems to be saying it is only when one is able to look directly at ugliness, to embrace it even, that change becomes possible. It is a difficult revelation, it will hurt to get there, but it’s a valuable cut to make nonetheless.
Molly Bess Rector is a poet, editor, and writing consultant. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas where she directs the nonprofit organization Open Mouth Literary Center. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, Ninth Letter, The Orison Anthology, and Prairie Schooner, among others.