“there’s peace in acknowledging the death of things” – Exactly the opposite in describing the unrest I feel after finishing Darah Schillinger’s debut chapbook, when the daffodils die (Yellow Arrow Publishing, 2022).
Schillinger metamorphosizes an entirely new way of experiencing feelings in using connections between nature and other overlooked treasures of the world to ground our own personal sentiments. The resemblance in her humanizing comparisons between earthly processes and our own life journeys evokes such deep curiosity about our own standing in this world.
In one of Schillinger’s earlier poems, the speaker in “Eden” gives a wittingly fantastic retelling of the biblically known Lilith and makes way for a new view on women in society. The speaker refers to Adam and Eve, asking Lilith, Adam’s first wife, if she missed the garden from which she was cast away from for disobeying Adam. In an empowering twist, the speaker claims Lilith is grateful she “ran from paradise,” that it is better to be “a demon than a woman to blame.” Lilith is “proof we were never made to obey.” This speaks volumes to the conventional stereotypes bestowed upon women.
The poem “I love meeting people lined with tattoos” falls in touch with the world around us and scales it back to tattooed skin, miniscule in comparison. It gives the tattoos a storyline of their own, “the people who come from trees / deep punctured / dark marked flesh,” bringing light to the tattoos as something we can identify with. The speaker goes on, “the people who mortalize art / it dies with them,” gauging the tattoos as entities in themselves–a parallel in the beauty we find in our own skin and in nature’s.
While finding value in nature, Schillinger found irony in it as well. “Why Mars and Venus Collide” reads as a commentary in the form of an argument between the speaker’s inner self, one prejudiced voice fighting for the idea that women are predestined to never be in nature’s favor, and the other who shows all the ways they’re wrong. The speaker follows this pattern of stating preconceived notions, “of course we are irrational emotional nonlinear / it’s natural / it’s in the brain / women can’t think rationally,” then presenting a rebuttal in the form of exemplary women, “(Mary Jackson, Susan La Flesche, Cordelia Fine, Tu Youyou).” In the final rebuttal, the speaker ends, “(stop blaming nature for your prejudice)” –a message that nature does not define society’s idea of a woman.
In “marriage,” the speaker views marriage through the essence of the environment. They “fall in love daily / with the sky and the sea and / the pollen watering my eyes,” conceptualizing the feeling of marriage through nature. The final lines read “and I fall / again and again / with or without you,” encompassing the hardship of finding what you had in the first place in new places.
Schillinger’s untitled poem, which appears later in the book, forges the concept that love and loss go hand in hand. The speaker starts, “how foolish can we be to believe all love comes without loss”, an unfortunate truth that we cannot have one without the other. The piece takes an optimistic turn, however, “love can conquer time and distance and uncertainty / and it can / break / fall apart / die, / still mean something after,” proposing that one is needed to mend the other.
Each piece is undaunting in how they challenge societal standards, whether that is gender inequality, familial relationships, religion, love, or grief. They strive to reform everything we thought we knew about the world and foster a sense of acceptance. Using the element of nature, Schillinger makes even the most mundane aspects of life worth paying attention to.
After reading when the daffodils die, I have an appreciation for how Schillinger’s poems work to configure different presentations of love for ourselves, for others, and for all things unseeming. Her work unearths the perceptions we often see in society today and sets a tone for empowerment, for how we see each other and ourselves.
Z Eihausen is an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she studies English and Philosophy. Her extracurriculars include dancing (poorly), hanging out with bees, playing saxophone, and attempting to make peace with her beloved cat.