Elevate Difference

Find the Girl: Poems

Lightsey Darst’s first book of poetry, Find the Girl, offers a haunting look into the world of womanhood. She explores the missing and the murdered, the tragic (Helen of Troy, Atlantis), and the everyday girl who is discovering herself.

A number of Darst’s poems contain a true-crime slant, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In “Mary, Annie, Liz, Kate, Mary”—which are the names of Jack the Ripper’s victims—we are left to wonder “Whatever / became of the others.” The poem opens with “You left us nothing but names and dead faces, / the names men called you, faces / twisting away.” This stanza reveals how the victims in the Ripper case are usually treated—as unfortunate unknowns. But Darst gives us visuals of these women beyond the gruesome and grainy crime-scene photos. She describes their attire (“blue-trimmed coat” and “jay-feather hat”), and the fateful moments that led to their murders—“You followed a red trail to a narrow door.”

“JonBenet” not only explores the infamous unsolved case, but also relates back to the book’s title. “You didn’t want to be the girl anymore, wanted / to grow up, be what comes next, the lion” and “A girl is a woman / is a rack to be hung with gashed sky” are two examples of this quest for finding the girl—literally and figuratively—and understanding what it means to be female.

Find the Girl also examines sexuality, especially in its early, blossoming form. “A few things I learned about sex ed,” explores the puberty years: “Some girls had come in busty and without a chance. / We all had cravings, fingers, throbbing to music. / Then I didn’t know it was sex, would deny / when boyfriends asked me.” In “what’s the worst that can happen,” a girl grapples with sexuality and being called a slut, while in “House” a girl tries to understand rape. The girl asks “why / is it my part to allow / to have it in me / & open that store to others.”

Darst experiments with atypical forms in her poems, which sometimes adds ambiguity and causes disconnect. This detachment generally strengthens her poems and gives certain themes a more haunting quality. For instance, in “Didn’t you hear,” the reader gathers bits of information about a girl who went missing and her unknown abductor. We learn “in his cellar, above blackberry jelly, the highest jars / are flush with shorn-off women’s hair. (‘he eats them’).”

Overall, Find the Girl is a unique and dynamic collection of poetry. As we try to understand what it means to be female, we get to peer into the world of other girls, be them famous or average.

Written by: Michelle Tooker, June 15th 2010