By Sara Pisak
Stylistically, at the water’s edge by Nadia Gerassimenko’s offers a wide range of poetic forms, including poems inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Adrian Lyne’s film adaptation of the novel. The chapbook also incorporates found poems from Dylan Farrow’s letters to The New York Times, as well as other found sources. at the water’s edge is a refreshing collection of prose poems and works inspired by films and other various sources, showing Gerassimenko’s mastery of several styles of poetry as well as the elements of craft which make each style unique. But at its core, at the water’s edge is about believing in and standing in solidarity with those who have suffered trauma, including ourselves. It is a collection which looks at trauma in all its forms, and how we cope with traumatic experiences.
“I am sorry. I believe you! / I stand with you,” ends the found poem “dolores wishes.” Falling in the middle of the collection, these lines set a precedent which is influenced by every work preceding and goes on to inform the proceeding works which follow. These two straightforward lines mark the root of the collection. Branching outward and linking the impressive array of poetic forms and styles to its thematic elements, these roots illustrate the unbreakable bond between humanity through surviving trauma. It is through forgiveness, art, and fellowship that healing is possible.
The imagery of roots as a uniting factor is one metaphor which Gerassimenko explores in the four-part prose poem, “elusive.” In part four the speaker soliloquizes:
when two trees meet on muddy soil their roots entwine. beneath
the earth, they love & nurture & protect. it’s how you see them
reaching for the blue skies. how their cherry flowers bud then
burst into the air. how they coat themselves in green. & when they
become cascading hues of yellow, orange, red, […]
it’s when i met
you i could feel threaded, my hands reaching for yours like
interlacing lianas. feeling myself grounded, i rooted in to you even
further. beneath the earth, our roots entwined reaching deeper for
the core & beyond—to love, to nurture, to protect.
The roots and vines fuse the speaker with all those who are trying to ground themselves after traumatic events. Intertwined with humanity through shared experiences is how society’s connection together grows and helps those surviving trauma flourish. The roots become symbolic of the work done below the surface, the soul searching and healing of oneself in order to see the outward progress of the branches reaching towards the sun and the changing color of the leaves.
The images of vines and roots as connecting shared experiences continue throughout the collection, including pieces which take on a darker tone. These uniquely-voiced pieces use personas such as Dolores to find a voice and an outlet for experiences and memories of a sinister nature. The diction becomes sharp and intense as the speaker is preyed upon by a mysterious, nameless predator as well as illnesses. Just when it appears that the sinister presence has overtaken innocence as well as self-expression, the vines and roots return. In the piece, “i butchered my hair today” lines like, “i resisted you” are met with the closing stanza, “i butchered my hair today / asymmetrically, but it waves / like vines, like freedom.” The lopsided, asymmetrical, and predatory nature of the encounter leaves the speaker rightfully distressed. It is not until the vines and roots become reminiscent of free-flowing waves does the speaker feel relief and freedom.
at the water’s edge is a much-needed meditation on how humanity’s battle scars have made humankind more alike than different, and how many perceived weaknesses are really strengths. In the title poem, at the water’s edge, the following advice is offered:
it’s not wrong to love deeply
feel vulnerable for others
it’s not a weakness but a strength
if i could reassure myself
i’m not at fault completely
forgetting is a matter of time
forgiveness, the ultimate release
i’m now the water going
you’re now the water gone.
If a reader takes one thing from at the water’ edge it should be: there is strength in being vulnerable; there is vulnerability in being strong; forgiveness is a powerful balm; find your voice; believe those who are survivors of abuse; and stand in solidarity with one another.
Sara Pisak is a Contributing Editor at Helen: A Literary Magazine and a Staff Reviewer at Glass Poetry Press. Sara participates in the Poetry in Transit Program and has recently published work in the Deaf Poets Society, Five:2:One Magazine, Glass Poetry, Moonchild Magazine, and Boston Accent. When not writing, Sara can be found spending time with her family and friends. You can follow her writing adventures on Twitter @SaraPisak10.
Nadia Gerassimenko is the founding editor of Moonchild Magazine and proofreader at Red Raven Book Design. She is a freelancer in editorial services by trade, a poet and writer by choice, a moonchild and nightdreamer by spirit. Nadia self-published her first chapbook Moonchild Dreams (2015). at the water’s edge is her second chapbook (Rhythm & Bones Press, 2019). Follow Nadia on Twitter.