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High Plains Book Awards Finalist: “Mercy” by Shirley Camia

High Plains Book Awards Finalist: “Mercy” by Shirley Camia

From the Reviews of 2020 High Plains Book Awards Finalists series
High Plains Book Awards Finalist: “Mercy” by Shirley Camia

Editor's note: “Mercy” is a finalist in the Poetry category of the 2020 High Plains Book Awards.

In her book of poetry, “Mercy,” Shirley Camia elucidates the stages of grief with simple yet evocative images.

The book, which has the dedication “For Mom,” functions as a conversation between the narrator and her deceased mother. The poems are simple; there is no need for elevated language or lengthy metaphorical description. Instead, Camia takes the overly complicated anguish of loss and distills it down to the most raw and vulnerable details.

“Mercy,” a finalist for the High Plains Book Award for Poetry, begins with an opening poem, followed by four segments: “Dusk,” “What People Say at a Wake,” “Memento,” “Completing the Crossing,” and ends with a closing poem. The work addresses trepidation before death, during and after. The poems are short and poignant, capturing the sorrow and helplessness of death.

“the only things I can do/ fix your crooked barrette/smooth your rumbled cover/ bend my cheek to yours.”

Camia’s work delicately captures the moments of vulnerability during death – unable to stop it, accepting it, yet emotionally anesthetized to the full gravity of it.

The dialogue maintains throughout the work as a confession from narrator to mother.

“did you see the arches fall to a line/ did you hear the beeps collide/ were you ready did you cry/ were you scared/ was it dark or full of light/ did you see lola/ can you breathe.”

Simple, short, yet striking, the poem offers a powerful reaction from the narrator and also offers a glimpse into the suffering her mother must have experienced while alive when she asks, “can you breathe?”

It is a manifesto of phases one experiences from the beginning of losing a loved one, to the minimal yet profound moments after like finally throwing away the last things they touched.

Camia’s writing is unassuming. It does not get in the way of the reader’s interpretation of loss. Rather, it creates a relatable common ground that allows a convergence between reader and narrator.

“Mercy” reconnects the reader with their own experiences. It is validation, but more so, a kindred soul showing that we are not alone.

Charity Dewing is a journalist at the Billings Gazette and adjunct professor at MSUB.

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