Garten’s (Box of Pain, Box of Fear, 2013, etc.) new poetry collection shares the burdens of aging, marriage, and self-awareness with spry, refreshing candor.
This compilation, dedicated to the poet’s brother, mourns his loss to cancer just three weeks before their mother’s death. The reach of the verses becomes profound when they add the intrigues, in and out of the marriage bed, of a long union between husband and wife. The speaker has a brush with illness that seems to scare and exult him, and readers will sense that he pushes his limits with various forms of excess: “I rise once again to something briefly spectacular. / Behaving grows so boring.” The flame of sexual desire remains lit as he reaches for a lover’s “Anxious / Young / Unburnt / Skin.” These frank, unrhymed lines deploy a lot of white space, so each word resonates. The beloved pastime of fishing appears frequently, offering a useful metaphor for writing: “This pen casts / Bait from a bucket / Of desire // In the backwaters / Of my brain / Ideas jump // Like hungry / Fish.” The poet writes of fishing, too, for material: “I still bloom and bear seed. / Hurling every baited piece of me, hooked on the idea of catching something.” Like salmon swimming upstream, poets ache to fulfill their destinies—to spawn words, spout off, burn up, “finally exhausted / From who we are.” Clever, original moments gleam in the sparse stanzas, as when the speaker describes the near end of a relationship: “You, a slither of soap beyond any usefulness, remain.” Despite its sparseness, this is still an imagistic book in which “clouds buckle their pants” and candles sport “little yellow ballerina flames.” Readers will be jolted back to the foundations of plain language with the book’s closing lines, which recall old games of hide-and-seek with a brother: “You never could find me when we played back then. I wish you could find me now.”
Raw, compelling, and pleasurable poems.