Keep This To Yourself
by Kerrin McCadden
Button Poetry, 2020
“I search Craiglist for sadness: a white couch the only result,” begins “Weeks After My Brother Overdoses,” the final poem in Kerrin McCadden’s chapbook, Keep This to Yourself (Button Poetry 2020). McCadden’s latest collection is a strikingly blunt yet beautifully lyrical meditation on what it means to lose a loved one to America’s current opioid crisis. The poems here offer readers an intimate lens into the spaces of trailers, bedrooms, living rooms, and hospitals, all once full of light, and then obscured by the pain of watching a brother die slowly in these familiar spaces. That’s how Keep This to Yourself strikes so effectively— readers are not a distant audience but rather brought to the edge of the room and asked to listen and speak, because that’s what today’s crisis asks of all us; to insert ourselves and of loved ones here in this narrative.
The sequencing in this collection interweaves between the more lyrical “reverse overdose” passages along with the more narrative structure and storytelling of the other poems like “Mass General,” “When My Brother Dies,” and “My Brother Wailing.” As the title suggests, “reverse overdose” moves backwards through time, and begins with “reverse overdose: i,” giving us the last image of the speaker’s brother:
my brother’s heart is transplanted into a stranger
machines keep my brother’s organs alive for days
he is declared brain dead my brother’s hand is so warm
I think he will wake up I sit and hold my brother’s hand
I rush to the hospital my brother’s lips are blue and he’s not
asleep his roommate calls 911 she thinks he is asleep he falls
off the wagon he buys something for the pain he tells
his roommate he needs to go meet a friend dealers
swap heroin for fentanyl she heads out to the clinic
his neck hurts all the methadone is out of his system
One of the most startling mechanics of this poem is the lack of conventional punctuation, which sharply juxtaposes tone and contrast with the other poems included in the collection. These more narrative pieces guide us through the story arch of their brother’s ascent into drug abuse, which is both unique and universal; the same reasons many share for using opiates, yet the victims are always diverse and expand past the abuser themselves, and into secondary victims; their family and loved ones. Removing punctuation adds a heightened level of urgency on top of an already extremely urgent narrative, leaving readers feeling disorientated by its speed; the same emotional response that the speaker experienced in this continuous grieving process. This is McCadden’s greatest success with these poems; the singular ability to bring an audience devastatingly close to the speaker’s heart and to the heart of their brother.
Keep This to Yourself adds a vital voice to contemporary poetry, not only as a testament to what is happening to our friends, neighbors, and loved ones across the country, but also as a testament to what is starting to be deeply felt and seen across all mediums of art today. These poems exceed our expectations as record and artifact of our time. They will continue to sing, be heard, and be a warning to what is to come to many more families if we continue to ignore these deaths as well as lives that are cast to the sidelines by our inadequate response to this crisis. These poems will be the windows we open for each other; the essential glimpses of American life that we are too easily shuttering. Kerrin McCadden is a poet of fierce lyricism and brilliant storytelling— “Weeks After My Brother Overdoses” is not the end to this speaker’s gaze— it’s the beginning of a long and overdue conversation to be held among poets, artists, and among this country itself.
- A Review of Kerrin McCadden’s KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF - May 28, 2020