A Story is a Legacy: Elizabeth Greene’s Understories

In this four-part collection, Greene cleverly resurfaces stories and memories to explore loss, healing and the preservation of legacies through the power of the poetic form. In “One Perfect Afternoon,” Greene invites us to experience a momentous but unsuccessful romance by asking us to imagine a love that is tangible but unreachable at the same time. Just as one poem alludes to a cosmic romance (“You took my hand. / Energies of the universe / flowed over us, / wind blew round us”), another underscores that relationship’s fleeting nature by recollecting “All those years of silence, distance, absence.” These cycles of memory and lamentation reflect on the past as a path to healing and closure.

The book’s second section explores familial relationships. The most powerful poems here navigate the speaker’s tensions with a mother who “wasn’t mean-critical- / passed on a pot of self-doubt / so black I’m still scrubbing.” By revisiting the role that criticism and illness played in her relationship with her mother, and by reflecting on her own, very different, relationship with her son, the speaker maturely acknowledges that familial relationships take on many forms. In “Time Travel,” the speaker must “travel through those layers of years, / take my past selves by the hand and bring them finally, home” and reconcile with her past in a manner that nurtures the absences she has felt in her own family.

The third part, “Going the Distance for Poetry,” is not only a tribute to powerful art and poetry but contemplates how to enter a meaningful, poetic journey. The speakers in this section struggle to find inspiration and meaning in the poetic pursuit, as in “Leaving Chile,” when the speaker asks, “How will we find poems / in the midst of dailiness?” These poems affirm that poetic inspiration comes from everywhere and provides an avenue to use one’s voice, but only practicing this craft by “turning sand into pearl / over and over / makes the artist.”

As the collection draws to a close, Greene brings her themes full circle. Here, the loss of a marriage, friends and a mother is juxtaposed with places and poetic works of art that seemingly last forever, though the nostalgic connection to such things changes. Places hold stories and memories: “These streets embrace us / their stones full of stories,” but it is through revisiting and re-engaging with their own memories that the speakers are able to reconcile loss with the legacy stories provide. Greene’s collection reminds us that such legacies are created and sustained by the unfolding and sharing of histories.


Tiffany Moniz is an English and Special Education teacher with the Peel District School Board. She is currently teaching and working on her own poetry.



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