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Lisa C. Peterson Book Review

Poetry Book Review

Tangled by Blood: a memoir in verse
by Rebecca Evans

Moon Tide Press, 2023, 89pp, moontidepress

Reviewed by Lisa C. Peterson

Power. Silencing. Child abuse. Tragically, these themes co-exist. When perpetrators steal their victims’ voices, they rob them of a precious gift—the ability to express and protect themselves. Yet not all victims remain silent. And when the one who speaks is a poet, adept at massaging words to circle difficult experiences, the effect can be profound.

In Tangled by Blood, Rebecca Evans exposes the reverberating nightmare of childhood sexual abuse that was etched into her body as a child—by parents who were supposed to protect her but violated her, instead. Silent no more, Evans uses her lyrical voice to reclaim her power by shouting, whispering, and singing her story. The arc of this memoir-in-verse progresses from childhood recollections to adolescent struggles to adult reckonings. Throughout, echoes of the narrator’s dysfunctional upbringing remain—in the form of disordered eating, suicidal ideations, domestic violence, and the shame, secrets, and lies that abuse often engenders. Yet through verse, Evans guides the reader through this difficult subject matter, building understanding and empathy by presenting poems and prose from different points of view and by using a variety of styles and forms to create a multi-faceted story of her experience living with this trauma.

A chorus of female voices (sister Tina, a young “Beckala”, the mother, and a wiser adult Rebecca) offers a glimpse into the narrator’s youth. The preface poem, “I wanted to be your womb,” written in the voice of Tina, introduces the theme of innocence poisoned by “Daddy’s” uninvited intrusions. The rest of the book is broken into three parts, which works well to separate childhood experiences from adult reflections and lingering pain.

Part I creates a mosaic of abuse—a stepfather sexually assaulting his young daughters as well as a biological mother who knows yet doesn’t intervene. In powerful lines that build between descriptive stanzas, the narrator condemns the complicit mother: “Mother…Mother was…Mother was worse…Mother was worse than…Mother was worse than Father.” In “Cremation” she reiterates this blame, yet also hints at the complexity of their relationship in a stanza containing the apt title for the memoir-in-verse:

            …. If she asks my forgiveness,
            I’ll fail her,
            though we remain
            tangled by blood….

Poems written in the mother’s overbearing and dismissive voice further cement this image of a child alone and undefended against the force of an abusive stepfather.

The entirety of Part II is a six-part poem in Tina’s voice. In “I wanted to be your wall” Tina weaves the story of two sisters facing a cruel reality at the hands of a monster. Yet Tina also imparts a sweet song of sisterhood —a picture of what mothering should have looked like.

            …. In our after time,
            I’d wrap you, Sweet Baby
            Sister, curve you
            in my arms, wait ‘til
            your heart slowed
            and your eyes slid low….

This loving voice provides a stark contrast to the mother’s condescension as well as a more appropriate role model for young Beckala that offers a glimmer of hope.

In part III we find the adult narrator grappling with life in the shadow of abuse. Having survived her traumatic childhood, Evans explores the persistent memories that she carries in her mind, soul, and body, even as she moves forward—tales of her own sons, spousal abuse, and finally an un-silencing.

In “Tombstone Roses,” the narrator uses the model of Norma Jean transforming into Marilyn to morph from child, Beckala, to adult Rebecca—renaming herself, owning herself.

            …After I entered the military, I unnamed my-
            self, introduced Rebecca, no longer Becky—no

            longer victim. Not as drastic as Norma Jean spinning
            into Marilyn, though I thought I could alchemy

            into gold, story selected memories…

Yet the desired transition proves elusive, and Evans goes on to write of her own adult struggles in poems that are increasingly complex and metaphoric. In “Not the Land of Milk and Honey” Evans uses images from nature to reflect on her pain:

                         …And I wonder

            if there’s ever a right time—for war or tears
                        or feeding a hunger that’s selfish
                        and red. Wonder if the tubular

            felt raped and left for dead after her
                         nectar-draining, like blood-drawn
                         from empty veins…

In this and other poems, we see that the trauma is never truly left behind. Instead, it contorts in form from daily threat to haunting memory.

Despite the lingering anguish, Evans allows us to witness her extraordinary love—in the exquisite joy she feels in becoming a mother herself. We see her humility, strength, and humor in the checklist-formatted “The Non-Standard Parenting Plan for Turning Boys into Men,” including advice that is humble, “Say I’m sorry. Say it often,” profoundly true, “Tell them to value their own body and the bodies of others” and humorous, “Sing aloud in public when they misbehave. Get the lyrics wrong.” We journey alongside our narrator as she transitions into a conscientious caregiver (with a self-deprecating sense of humor) even as she continues to face adult struggles. And we cheer as she reclaims her power in “Yellow Declaration”:

            …. Some say detasseling corn is like rape, savaging female stalk centers. But I,
            Rebecca, declare, don’t compare rape to anything but rape or yellow

            to anything but yellow.

This truth-telling feels well-earned after so many years of silencing.

Throughout the memoir-in-verse, Rebecca Evans bravely condemns the abuse for what it was and attempts to break the cycle through her own fierce style of mothering. Although ripple effects linger, there is an increasing sense of, if not “healed,” at least healing. Overall, this lyrical memoir presents a personal journey through breathtaking imagery, word choice, and rhythm. It confronts pain, struggle, resentment, and ultimately, resilience with vulnerability and honesty. Its poetic styles immerse us into the mind and body of a survivor, a woman who has taken her trauma and turned it into art, so that her story is no longer shrouded in silence.


Lisa C. Peterson holds an MFA from UNR at Lake Tahoe as well as a BA and an MA from Stanford University. Her work has appeared in Hypertext Magazine, HeartWood Literary Magazine, Writer’s Foundry Review, Sport Literate, The Closed Eye Open, Sierra Nevada Review Blog, and elsewhere.

The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.



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