Staring Down the Tracks
by Julia Paul
In the United States, in 2017 alone, 197 people died every day from drug overdoses. The numbers have not significantly changed since, despite increasing awareness of the epidemic that holds massive numbers of individuals in its chokehold. The statistics, startling as they are, fail to include countless others who suffer or die from conditions related to addiction, such as homelessness, poverty, infections and chronic illnesses. This is a wildfire burning everywhere. It should be impossible to turn away from those who struggle with this disease, just as we don’t turn away from victims of other diseases and disasters, but the stigma surrounding addiction encourages the false and dangerous notion that addiction is a choice and a character defect. As a society, we haven’t yet learned how to look into the eyes of the person holding a cardboard sign at the highway underpass.
Staring Down the Tracks is a collection of poems that gives voice to those affected by addiction, a population that, despite their numbers and diverse demographics, is often harshly judged and silenced by shame. The mother and son of these poems are your neighbors, friends, relatives, and co-workers who need to have a dialog with you.
About the Author
Julia Paul serves as president of the Riverwood Poetry Series, a longstanding reading series in Hartford, Connecticut. In addition to publication in numerous literary journals, both national and international, including Comstock Review, Minerva Rising, New Mexico Review, The Fourth River, Windmill and Connecticut Review and anthologies such as From Under the Bridges of America, The Heart of All that Is and Lavandaria, several of her poems have been performed in stage productions. Her first book, Shook, is published by Grayson Books. Paul served as Manchester, Connecticut’s first Poet Laureate, 2014-2019. She is an elder law attorney and the proud mother of three grown sons.
From the opening image of a young man “clothespin-thin,” lugging “bundles / of belongings down a dirt path,” Julia Paul is prepared to stare down reality, no matter how familiar or heartbreaking. Images precise and severe are accompanied by a fragile, defiantly beautiful music as the poet describes the son whom she will lose, over and over again, a boy so spectral that “he leans against a plank of light.” As he prepares to enter yet another detox center, her son will heave “his bundle / of belongings onto the bent / spoon of his back.” The story is all too familiar; the poems are much more than familiar – brave, articulate, acutely observant.
~ Erica Funkhouser, author of Post & Rail, winner of the Idaho Prize for Poetry
Staring Down the Tracks is an extraordinary, elegant collection of poetry about the dire, dreadful, heartbreakingly common experience of opiate addiction and its ravages. If Sylvia Plath were the mother of an addict, she would write poems like “Holding the Pin between Her Teeth,” “Spell for Detaching,” “The Summer of Fire,” and so many others. With nearly 200 people dying every day of overdoses, everyone should read this.
~ Miriam Greenspan, psychotherapist and author of Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair
Julia Paul’s poetry collection Staring Down the Tracks takes you inside addiction’s silences to reveal, in honed works of lyricism, a mother’s relentless worry and pain and grief as her son, who “loved his skateboard,” now finds “no vein for happy” and sleeps where “bridge becomes roof.” Paul has pulled these words, somehow, from the far reaches of the unsayable. This book will help families engulfed in addiction know that they are not alone and give others insight into its horror. It is a courageous and generous collection, an essential contribution to literature about addiction that will change you.
~ Daniel Donaghy, author of Somerset: Start with the Trouble, winner of the Paterson Prize for Literary Excellence.