Donna Marie Merritt’s chapbook We Walk Together, from Beech Hill Publishing Company $5, is a compassionate look at the world, and brings into focus the myriad of America’s current troubles. The slim volume of free verse addresses economic and spiritual woes squirming in America’s knotty heart.
Merritt opens the chapbook with “Come yah!” a socially conscious check of white privilege. The poem is set on Jamaica’s beaches, and the speaker serves both as narrator and conscious. Merritt is giving us a placid holiday poem that not only satirizes America's love of foreign beaches, but also America’s snobbery towards service jobs. While the exigency of the poem could apply to American beaches as well as Jamaican, Merritt focuses her poetic eye on the “Jamaican in the water,” who is just trying to feed his family while white vacationers ignore his calls from the water, and smile their “dental plan smiles.”
Merritt’s work, for much of Walk, is focused upon these contrasts, “JD” concerns a troubled young student, “Harmony” longs for a place where we can all “exhale.” Children deal drugs to cope with tempestuous home lives, and a therapist’s office offers the only sanity for some.
Merritt’s voice is economic, and many of the poems strip away language in favor of image, a washed up door in Cape Cod, a berated wife possibly packing to flee her abusive husband, a college student pretending to be homeless for 48 hours for a class. Merritt eschews simile and metaphor and typically goes for the throat of the matter, usually a point of clarity where the poems lenses come together, at the end, to focus on the contrasting imagery between the have and the have nots.
Merritt reminds us that it isn’t just material wealth that separates the haves from the have nots, but also the safety of home, that illusive emotional currency that is often broke. However, toward the end of the chappie, Merritt deftly handles a cheating marriage through the imagery of gardening and tree husbandry, pun intended.
We Walk Together is not a completely hopeless look at America, for the book ends on a positive note. Merritt shows us not only kindness at a busy checkout lane (where kindness is almost always sold out) but more importantly Merritt gives us a prayer for families and children in “It Has to Be Possible.”
Merritt is the author of four previous poetry collections, as well as 15 math and science books for children. She is teaching artist, active in her community in Connecticut.