Black Water Beneath
a Lid of Ice

Honorable Mention 
2010 New Women’s Voices Chapbook Competition from Finishing Line Press

Nominated for the
Pushcart Prize

Cover Art by Susan Adams


 To Purchase Please Contact ToniLWilkes@gmail.com


In this book, a mother’s fierce, unflinching observations of her daughter enduring a series of horrific brain surgeries are juxtaposed against the delicate tracings from an almost mythical past. Whether watching a surgeon tie off a “monkey stitch/tatting” her child’s scalp or recalling “The Girl on the Diving Board,” intact, beautiful, and poised on the brink of adulthood, Wilkes brings care and passionate precision to language in poems that articulate the gap between what was and what is, and between what is and what could-have-been. Many voices speak in Black Water Beneath a Lid of Ice, but it is the mother’s that rings through, standing up to a busybody cleric in the unforgettable line, “I made my daughter cell by cell,” internally raging that “The God I know doesn’t make plans like this,” or recognizing herself as Madame Defarge, but “knitting my own/name in the blanket.” In the end, Wilkes eschews sentimentality and tidy resolution and leaves her readers in “this/dark hush before bedtime,” just as life does, in the aching places in between.

Rebecca Foust, author of All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song (Many Mountains Moving) and God, Seed (Tebot Bach Press). 

When the phrase “pulls at the heart” is used to describe a manuscript, the fear is that the work is saccharine or, worse, maudlin. Toni L. Wilkes’s latest manuscript Black Water Beneath A Lid of Ice steers clear of these pitfalls and is, by turns, riveting in its language, clear-eyed on its torturous path. The speaker’s grief mixed with observation of even the most minute details make this book immensely soul-satisfying and very readable. I’m glad I didn’t miss the journey.

–Lynne Thompson, author of Beg No Pardon (Perugia Press).

Sometimes the entire world shrinks to one small room, where a relentless turn of impossible days bears the blunt intensity of human love, persisting. In Black Water Beneath a Lid of Ice,Toni Wilkes takes her reader, as one might choose a trusted friend, as companion on the harrowing journey inaugurated by her adult daughter’s stroke. As hours of crisis become days, then months, and eventually years, a series of surgeries, of failed ventricular shunts, and of memories of other days’ ease and light, we find ourselves wandering hospital landscapes and complex family constellations accompanied by a stunning gentleness. Wilkes’s eyes and words are wholly unsentimental, unstinting, clear. A beauty begins to creep forth. “…your brain a bleeding cluster,” the poets sings to the daughter, and it is almost a blossoming. As the daughter’s body is ravaged, respect for her stays intact, and this mother is able to say, “Mostly, she knows that/ today may be all she’ll ever get.” If there is something greater, more enduring and real, than hope, it begins in the passage of these poems, to flower.

–Christina Hutchins, author of The Stranger Dissolves (Sixteen Rivers Press).


Limited Edition. Contact Toni.L.Wilkes@gmail.com to purchase your copy.

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