After a long career in the U.S. space and national defense programs, a debut author turns to poetry.
This slim volume comes with a brief introduction from McDonald explaining the dedication to friends and family. Indeed, it makes a thoughtful chronicle of a full life and will be treasured as such. From the banks of a boyhood creek in Mississippi to the changing seasons in Colorado, the sections play out their chronologies in steadfast rhyming quatrains. Many of the subjects are familiar to poetry fans—youth, wisdom, love, farewells. Much of the imagery is recognizable too, as in the opening lines of “Springtime,” where “Green walks slowly across the land, / Stamping brown into the sand.” Though it’s famously difficult to treat seasonal subjects freshly, this springtime scene includes a vision of lightning and thunder that inspires the speaker toward a strong metaphor to close the poem. “A new genre has claimed the land,” he asserts, putting a signature stamp on the old book-of-nature idea. The handful of romantic poems, too, draw on much-deployed tropes of holding the loved one close to the heart despite distance. But the depth of true love adds gravity to simple lines like these, from “Don’t Leave Me Alone”: “Today my heart trembles with fear, / Knowing you may not always be near.” Perfect rhyme seems just right in this case, for articulating how terrible it will be to go on living after the beloved departs, toiling onward in the wake of loss. The poet’s involvement in the space mission, beginning in 1964 with the Apollo program, occasions a long piece on this “Greatest Adventure,” hailing those who depart in a “chariot of fire” toward the much imagined “lunar path.” The title of the book connects to this “greatest thrill imaginable” but originates in McDonald’s self-described wanderlust to search for his father, killed during World War II, when the author was age 5. In boyhood dreams, he searched for his father, whose body was never found.
Poetry can’t produce a lost parent, but as this collection demonstrates, it can leave a meaningful legacy behind.