Lullaby (with Exit Sign) by Hadara Bar-Nadav

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Lullaby (with Exit Sign) feels like a book of poems written because they couldn’t not be written. They are like names in the family bible. A recording and a record keeping of death. Of life after witnessing death. This book is purpose not project. These poems are not hospital poems though there is a lot of hospital in them. A hospital of the mind and soul. The name of the poems are interesting. (“Split the Lark,” “Run Round a Round Room,” “Infection in the Sentence Breeds”) They could be signs the poet had seen while wandering the white halls of hospitals. Real or imagined they place an eerie path in the book. Each poem dedicated to some form of incision, or healing, or diagnosing but always leading towards more questions than answers. This is the hospital we always fear we will end up in as patient or waiting patiently.

There is a discipline, a symmetry in the poems of Hadara Bar-Nadav’s third book, winner of the 2012 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize and selected by Lynn Emanuel. A diligence towards grief. These are poems of learning. To learn more as the reason for writing them. They are lessons in letting go and of keeping. They disintegrate as one poem states, the meaning and memory of them stay.

There is a voice in these poems. One with an echo. In each poem is an Emily Dickinson line italicized. Also a painter, Bar-Nadav’s use of Dickinson’s lines, feels like titles within a painting.

Hadara Bar-NadavBar-Nadav’s choice of lines from Dickinson are not obvious. Frequently they are short and simple and seem to have no reason to be there other than to be there. A comforting hand, a spirit guide among the lines. She does not rely on Dickinson to make her poem. Her poems stand alone.

In the poem “Each Scar I’ll Keep For Him” she opens with “Who made me.” Indeed who made us? Who is our creator, to whom must we be loyal or unloyal? These are some of the large questions in Lullaby (with Exit Sign). Bar-Nadav herself a creator who lost her creation. In the poem Lamb Bar-Nadav tells us “I am seized by the young daughter I lost.” In the earlier poem “The World Is Not Conclusion” she says “Equations misfire, undaughter me.”

In her grief she stays with these ghosts. She is keeping them close.
Lullaby (with Exit Sign) opens with

I slept with all four hooves
in the air or I slept like a snail
in my broken shell.
The periphery of the world
dissolved. A giant exit sign
blinking above my head.
My family sings
its death march.
They are the size of the moon.

An original elegy to both blood lines past and future of Bar-Nadav’s family tree. She is a poet who makes you want to sit down and write alongside her. Use her lines as a spirit guide. Lullaby (with Exit Sign) shows us there is no way out from the longing of the living.

Tova Gannana is the poetry editor of The Arava Review. She writes film essays for berBICE{MRKT}.com. Finishing Line Press published her first book of poems, Human Dust, in 2012. She is the recipient of three Artist Grants from the Vermont Studio Center. More from this author →