Gene Zimmerman’s poetry collection, Searching for Clarity, details his five-year journey caring for his wife, who eventually died from cancer. It was a time filled with hardship, stress, loss, and grief but also love and appreciation.
The book has an orderly feel due to the formal consistency of its poems, all relatively short, each with four stanzas of quatrains. The speaker’s mood is often anxious and searching. For example, “Where to Go” begins, “I didn’t know where to go/ Or how to get there./ It seemed as if there was some place/ Where I could thrive and it would define me.// The places I looked/ Weren’t it.”
Zimmerman frequently uses metaphors to express his speaker’s sense of being psychologically lost and bereft (“I’ve slipped and fallen./ With no strength to get back up”), and natural references to describe moments of peace (“Togetherness, what comfort. Wrapped in a cocoon,// … // Like a river kissed by the sun/ Starts from here and goes to there”).
The fleeting nature of time, his most precious commodity as time with his wife runs out, is skillfully portrayed. For example, “Slept” begins gracefully: “The grass heads were at season’s end,/ The tips plump and long,/ Swaying in the wind,/ Gently moving through the day.” The speaker subsequently describes the sun moving as he watches his wife sleep, beautifully relaying his gentle yearning for what cannot be.
The work could use, however, more poetic artistry, as many poems read like prose. For instance, “Spaces and Places” begins, “I spent the day/ Traveling through spaces and places/ I would never have known/ If I hadn’t been with you.” Another weakness is the often-unimaginative titles that leave no room for interpretation, such as “Life is Short” and “Guilt and Sorrow.”
Despite such flaws, those experiencing the loss of a loved one from cancer, especially caregivers, will appreciate Zimmerman’s look at the particular emotions it brings: despair, heartbreak, helplessness, yet also communion and intimacy.
Also available as an ebook.