Museum of Accidents
by Rachel Zucker

Wave Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-933-51742-1.
Reviewed by Allyson Whipple
Posted on 10/20/2009


Rachel Zucker titled Museum of Accidents after a concept created by cultural theorist Paul Virilio, for a museum that would display every kind of unintended event, from natural disasters to strokes of good luck. Zucker incorporates accident and chance into this collection of poems: injured children, miscarriage, the sudden realization of happiness. As in previous books, Zucker explores issues drawn from her own experiences, focusing on marriage, childrearing, and artistic production. The result is a brilliantly emotional collection that fits with the rest of her oeuvre, but also stands apart.

Zucker's poems about parenting are so honest and visceral that they leave even childless readers with some understanding of what it means to love your children while simultaneously feeling smothered and thwarted by parenthood. In poems such as "Paying Down the Debt," the reader sees the power of parenthood and the way that the frustration it brings also can lead to fulfillment:

Then to school,
gather them home, and try to speak to them kindly but feeling like my skin
is too tight, like I'm the mother in smothered.

But despite an interrupted writing schedule and squabbles with her husband, we see triumph:

Walk on. Walk through. Happiness is for sissies, I tell the mothers of the furrow.
Happiness is for chumps and weaklings and martyrs...

Life as a mother is unpredictable and frustrating, but adds a dimension to life that happiness cannot provide; this poem illustrates that being happy is not the only way to fulfillment.

One of Zucker's strengths is eliciting an emotional response from the reader, even if the reader cannot directly relate to the experience described in the poem. I cried when I read "Welcome to the Blighted Ovum Support Group," which chronicles her experience of a miscarriage. Zucker explores the accident of her uterus and the way it leaves her with a healthy placenta, and yet no actual fetus growing inside. While trying to adjust to the emotional trauma, she also tries to tell her body to give up:

Let go, I tell the placenta. Go
Go now.

but had lost nothing. would let nothing go, nothing.

But her body does not know how to get rid of a fetus that does not exist; nor does Zucker know how to move on from a pregnancy that simultaneously did and did not exist. Her emotional honesty is overwhelming; her readers may not have ever experienced a miscarriage, yet they will cry over her loss.

My favorite poem in this collection is "Don't Say Anything Beautiful Kiss Me." Here, Zucker deconstructs the inadequate metaphors that are often found in love poetry. Lines such as "If my hands were birds you couldn't hold them; they'd peck you bloody" show the futility of trying to compare a lover to nature. Instead, the narrator commands the narratee:

stop lying
there trying to think of something to say and trying to understand me.

This poem yearns for the happy accidents that can arise from coupling, rather than the thought-out, overwrought, and ultimately inaccurate images that people use trying to describe love and lovers.While in most of this collection Zucker shows how accidents can affect us, here she shows that being intentional and careful can often interfere with pleasure.

Rachel Zucker is a poet, teacher, and doula. She has three previous poetry collections: Eating in the Underworld, The Last Clear Narrative, and The Bad Wife Handbook. You can find out more about her work on her website.

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