The Resounding Humanity of Sarah Kay’s ‘No Matter the Wreckage’

No Matter the Wreckage poetry by Sarah Kay

“You may not even crack the spine.
You may place this on the bookshelf,
or worse, under a stack of papers.
You may forget it and regift it later
to someone as a Secret Santa.
I will never know.”

— from “The First Poem in the Imaginary Book”

I’ll admit that Sarah Kay‘s No Matter the Wreckage has indeed been a resident of my bookshelf for too long — though it was never forgotten. Every time I perused the shelves, I would notice it sitting there and remember, Oh, yes, I need to read that. Then I would place it somewhere nearby with the intention cracking open and turning its pages, only to have it slip out of sight as my busy days shifted my attention.

In a way, though, the delay was a blessing, as the beautiful words on these pages feel like they have come to me at the perfect time.

I’ve been longing for a break from the rush and stress of my life, some time away to connect with myself and my creativity. So, a couple of weeks ago, I rented a cabin in the woods and developed a mini-writer’s retreat that would allow me to disconnect from social media and other distractions, providing the quiet I desired. (I’m planning to share more about this in a later post.)

No Matter the Wreckage was one of the several books I took with me on this journey into the woods, and it was the first book I turned to when I arrived. Each morning, I would make breakfast and tea, sit out on the porch and read poetry, while the whispering trees and birds chattered amongst themselves.

“I tell them, Listen. Listen to one another like you know
you are scholars. Artists. Scientists. Athletes. Musicians.
Like you know you will be the ones to shape the world.
Show me how many colors you know how to draw with.
Show me how proud you are of what you’ve learned.
And I promise I will do the same.”

— from “Mrs. Ribeiro”

From page one, Kay’s poetry resounds with a stunning sense of humanity that went straight to my heart. I had driven myself out into the woods in the search for solitude — and yet, here was this book, charged with heartache and spirit and and love, making me long for human connection.

I don’t mean to say that I was swamped with feelings of loneliness. Rather, this book shaped in me the kind of longing that carried its own pleasure.

A perfect example is the poem “Montauk,” in which Kay shares the story of a place her family would visit in the summers. While at a pool, she sees a little girl and is about to speak to her, when the moment is interrupted by an older woman cannonballing into the water. Kay writes, “She comes up coughing, flailing, water in her nose. She comes / up laughing.  The little girl giggles. And me? Well, I am laughing, too.”

All of a sudden, three human beings, three strangers, are suddenly and briefly connected to each other through their shared laughter. And reading this, I smiled along, also connected to that simple, beautiful moment through the words on the page. I found myself hugging the book to my chest. I love people, I thought. Sometimes they’re wonderful.

“I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape
all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers,
your hands will always be too small
to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

— from “B”

Kay’s line are pristine, glittering with clear, polished beauty. It’s the kind of crystalline writing that gives the illusion of ease, but is actually incredibly difficult to achieve. It’s the kind of writing that makes me jealous in the best and most appreciative of ways, the kind that makes me want to strive to be a better writer.

No Matter the Wreckage is a book I would recommend to anyone and everyone. Now that I’ve read this stunning, moving, powerful book, it will return to its home on my bookshelf, where I will be able to return to it again and again, turning its pages looking for spirit and wisdom, for the kind of grace that reminds us the good in this world has not yet been snuffed out.

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