Interior Panic, Anxious Love: Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents

by Michael Schmeltzer


There is a specific panic a parent can experience after days of sleep deprivation, the distress at two in the morning, three, quarter after four, then again at six in the morning. Then, after half an hour of quiet, a sudden wailing. A pitch that stirs the fight-or-flight response. Sometimes there is no way to react other than to scream back, or bite down on the soft part of your forearm hard. Then harder. If you don’t do this, you fear your mind may break against the will of another. As the poet Rachel Zucker writes, “today my beautiful child eviscerates me.” Other times it is the world you need to bite in order to keep it at bay, to keep everyone in the house safe. This is what parenting entails. This is what the best poetry entails.   

It wasn’t love that surprised me when I became a parent; it was the fear and frustration, the claustrophobia. These things swirled in me as furious as all the affection. It is that intense complexity I find in Museum of Accidents. Zucker writes explosives lines of emotional implosions. They are poems of interior panic, anxious love. Her lines race across the page. They slam to a stop. Other times the stanzas grow larger, chunkier, their mania barely controlled in those long and urgent expressions. These lines extend almost beyond breath, our body falters, and what better way to honor poetry and parenthood than stretching the self? These poems, by strength of voice, convincing in its danger, courageous in its fierce and almost obsessive devotion, are some of the best poems involving family I’ve ever read. Actually, more accurately, these are some of the best poems I’ve ever read. As a poet, as a parent, simply as a reader, I am thankful I found this book.

At any given moment, if I stare at my daughters for too long I inexplicably tear up. I am “swept away by love / and terror.” In a slant-way I react physically to Museum of Accidents as well. When I read the poems out loud I lose my breath. My pulse quickens. Zucker’s biography states she is both a labor doula and a poetry teacher. The intersection between these two practices, the focus on the body, breath, blood, and work, and love and love and love…it makes sense. It is visceral and beautiful. These forms fit the content, and the content is messy, sprawling, tragic, tender, wondrous. As a labor doula Zucker may help others breathe, but as a poet she is part stunning spectacle, part strangulation, with the ability to make a reader gasp as if before a freefall, a contraction. 


Michael Schmeltzer earned an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. His honors include five Pushcart Prize nominations, the Gulf Stream Award for Poetry, Blue Earth Review’s Flash Fiction Prize, and the Artsmith Literary Award. He has been a finalist for the Four Way Books Intro Prize, the OSU Press/The Journal Award in Poetry, the Slapering Hol chapbook contest, and a semi-finalist for the Zone 3 Press First Book Prize and Miller Williams Arkansas Prize. He helps edit A River & Sound Review and has been published in Natural Bridge, Mid-American Review, Water~Stone Review, New York Quarterly, Bellingham Review, and Fourteen Hills, among others.