Military life, lost loves, and the regrets of aging inform this debut collection of poetry.
Writing separately but presenting their poems in a single volume, Pattan, an Army doctor, and Brender, who led a platoon in Iraq, explore themes of duty and sacrifice, leadership and responsibility, feminine sweetness and sacredness, loss and remorse. Pattan’s poetry has a more conventional perspective, tinged with nostalgia and sentimentality and sometimes stiff with rhetoric. Praising “A Soldier,” he writes: “In his courage we all find protection / In his bravery he grants liberty / In spontaneous guile he’s bereft / But with a bully or trickster he’s deft.” In the stentorian “Bruder’s Boys,” a beloved high school coach subjects the team to “interval sprints until the muscles would fail / Make or run drills till fear of failure did set sail.” The political complaint “American Dream” decries “a border unguarded and bursting at that seam” and hears “the Hill/Bill’ies in D.C. saying profit must die / The noise of them printing money and taking their fee / too happy to bill this to you and to me.” In “Dreaming of Maxxy,” an elegy to a dog, the poet avers unpersuasively that “I’d surely give a thousand bright tomorrows / If I could only pet you one more time.” In a softer register, Pattan frankly hymns “The Last Great Kiss”—“Me standing quaking, naked and bare / Her reposed and cool and too austere / But fully clothed in beauty’s gear”—and recalls the chaste allure of a girl in his third-grade class, “spare or knowing or slyly coy,” in “The Joyful Smile.” While sincere, the emotions in Pattan’s poems often feel too processed and distanced by literary artifice to be compelling.
Brender’s poetry is more personal, psychological, and focused on specific images and moments. In the haiku “Night Watch,” he evokes “korean snow falls / the foreign night air numbs me / I bear its cold weight,” while the austere “I’ve Sore Feet” starts with a soldierly grumble, then relaxes into yearning. (“I’ve / sore feet / in this old cot / that’d / gladly / walk a bit more / to / be by / yours, ’stead of not.”) Brender’s exploration of relationships ranges from the jaunty “Text Message,” which celebrates “subtle words / simple texts / flirty thoughts / wide-eyed sex” to the complex breakup poem “I Would that I Were Dreamt,” which plays on giddy inversions of desire as the jilted poet looks for his former lover: “I would that I were sought / instead of seeking / so each turned head might / hide my looked-for face / or that its ghost would steal your / breath with each unexpected phone call.” Deep sorrow erupts in “Fathers,” a rueful meditation on the price that “unrelenting life” exacts on adulthood, bewailing “my sin, it’s as black as night / it blots out the shining sun.” Brender’s poems are concise and simple in form, though not always in content; at their best, they explore masculine themes with an uncommon immediacy and freshness.
A deeply felt, hit-and-miss collection that limns the conflicts and consolations of manhood in two different and sometimes clashing poetic styles.