REVIEWED BY REBECCA RUTH GOULD
Jennifer Militello’s The Pact is full of intimate insights into family dynamics, often narrated from a child’s perspective. Many of the poems center on the speaker’s fraught relationship with her sister and her mother. Taken together, these poems demonstrate how, for the poet, love is biological—a reflex of the body, an act of self-protection, and a physical need.
As if reflecting this biological intimacy, the images the speaker uses to describe herself often also capture her intimate others. In the titular poem, which is addressed to her mother, the speaker asserts, “my blood / is the blood sum of you and my father.” In “Sibling Parasitic,” the speaker addresses her sister, a spiritual twin of herself: “When I see / you, some old me hurts.” The speaker fears the mirror image she witnesses in her sister, and their tense relationship reaches a peak in “Job’s Comfort,” in which the sisters sleep together in bed, their bodies forming a biological symbiosis: “We were soft-bodied / in our shells.” Accompanying this physical closeness is a profound emotional recognition: “We would sacrifice / ourselves for one another.”
Despite the anger, jealously, and rage that pervades many of these poems, ultimately this is a book about love in its many manifestations. For Militello, humans love in the way we eat, sleep, and breathe. The capacity to love is not just what makes us human, it is what keeps us alive.
This review first appeared in The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Books here.