In Review: Chokecherry by Lyd Havens

It may sound odd to say that Lyd Havens’ poetry collection, Chokecherry, is an absolute joy, when every page expresses a deep lingering grief. Their haunting words take root and take flight, as they float through years of both traumatic dreams and a nightmarish reality, wrestling with painful memories before learning to be thankful for them.

Being a young child at the time of their uncle’s sudden death, and then losing both grandparents in a short time, Havens is well-versed in coping with each stage of suffering. They remember their uncle’s appearance and voice even a decade after his death, but admit to sometimes wanting to forget, and warring with how to forget a face so much like their own. To forget has become “a knife drawer of a word.” Forgetting can be impossible, and so can forgiving; it is exhausting to tiptoe around parents who are addicts, perhaps half ghosts themselves. We trudge through Havens’ memorial landscape of cleaning their parents’ vomit off the floor, their mother wearing a medal for the patron saint of the mentally ill.

“I feel empty the way a museum / can be empty”

Chokecherry is a truly immersive, desolate journey. When Havens details a distant, panicked history of wildfires and smoke, the poems feel like walking over burning embers. When they ponder a religion of survival and exactly what God might be, they inspire a need to hope for simply anything. “I feel empty the way a museum / can be empty,” they write, imagining a useless skeleton, an old soul who has maybe lived another life before, and will again. The grief of living one life is more than enough, when you lose multiple dear lives so early in your own. How can one body find room for all of those burdens?

From the meadows of Maine to the dry heat farther south, Havens’ poems span a vast physical and mental space. Their reflections lend an ethereal quality to trying to remember what it means to love someone, to find joy again. Reading their evolution is an endless loop of each poem wrapping your own heartstrings around your finger, a tense and empathetic ache that refuses to unwind. This is a read-in-one-sitting collection, as well as a return-again-and-again collection. It is equal parts spiteful fury and quiet remorse that is impossible not to gravitate towards. It is sure to pull in and hold close anyone who has ever lost anyone.

In “Chokecherry,” Havens cycles through rage, hope, regret, and the way the shadows persist when the light shines in. They place in our hands a plant not only sprouting new growth, but also gathering its own leaves that have fallen. Keep up with their work on their website and on Twitter @lydhavens.

(Game Over Books, May 2021)

BETHANY CRAWFORD has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.