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Editor's Commentary for 'The Silent Voice of Innocence'

In Helen Shin's "The Silent Voice of Innocence," the narrator observes a mother and child who have a dark past. Although she has abused her infant son, the mother in this poem is not judged. Rather, the narrator--exercising a capacious moral imagination--envisions her experience of mothering. In its ability to observe and describe cruelty to a child while simultaneously delving into the history and self of the mother, this poem calmly ascribes cruelty to the category of the human. Humans, it suggests, are capable of cruelty. Physicians are called upon to care for humans--not only the "innocents," but all of us in all our complication. 

Then there is the child, whose words can only be imagined by the poet. This poem pivots around him, as his mother's emotions and the narrator's observations hang over him in his silence. He, too, is subtly but deeply imagined. 

In both form and content, Shin's poem evokes the work of Emily Dickinson: the swift, bright lines belie a depth and darkness underneath. As delicate as the poem seems, it is finely wrought and strong. It holds both cruelty and beauty without cracking.

Rachel Pearson