These 32 poems anatomize the connections that people both make and miss with themselves, others, and the human condition.
Arends (Iowa, the American Heartland, 1981) begins this collection with poems that explore the sustaining power of family, love, and authentic relationships. In “Dirty Socks,” for example, the poem that begins this volume, the speaker is reminded of “all that I have / lost and found” in the weave of his daughter’s grungy hosiery. Work demands have taken away time that he could have spent with her, but next to that loss, he gains a “toe-hold of faith” from the girl’s happy dancing. Other poems treat big questions such as truth and death (“New Moon Descending”), human kindness (“Skin of the Fruit”), and responsibility (“Somewhere Within Her Borders”). Love poems round out this first half of the book. The second half takes a darker turn, with poems that focus on celebrity culture (“Dan Rather, Golden Girl”; “Kill the Lights”), disappointment and compromise (“Book Deal,” “The Closet”), and anomie (“Layover Blues,” “Will Call”). Many pieces show Arends’ verbal dexterity and fitting imagery, as with the witty “toe-hold” in “Dirty Socks.” Some lines misstep; “Candle Light,” for example, describes lovemaking that sounds anatomically impossible, and “buns” seems disastrously wrong: “[you] thrust up against / my palm, then my wrist, / then the bicep as my hand / tunnels beneath your buns.” The final poem, “Feathers Lost,” takes the viewpoint of an aging bird of prey whose memories are tainted by loss (as with “my mate’s brood of eggs / buckled and smashed”). His power diminished, he can now only “lock my wings to the wind / and close my eyes to dream.” The bird’s elegiac mood is very different from the affectionate, hopeful fatherliness that opens the book, showing Arends’ range and helping to counter his weakness for pathos (as in “The Last Bear,” a poem that excruciatingly details how Sarajevo’s zoo animals died painfully from starvation and neglect).
Though some poems misfire, many in this collection offer thoughtful, linguistically deft perceptions.