Defibaugh’s debut collection features stylistically and thematically diverse poems written over his 16 years in a wheelchair.
Diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at age 4, Defibaugh began writing poetry when he was confined to a wheelchair in 1999 at age 13. This long span of composition—nearly 16 years—accounts for the variety in form and tone. Clichéd end rhymes (sound/ground; smile/while), repetitive structures (each stanza of “The Life” begins with “I miss”), and haikus might represent an amateur stage, ceding to more mature verses that prioritize original imagery and sound techniques. Many poems dwell on beginnings and endings. In “The Bar,” for instance, Defibaugh remembers his first beer—“A bubbled bread down my raspy throat.” Meanwhile, “Father?” depicts the death of a simplistic faith, the pun “passing their sense in the basket” implying that worshipers must leave reason at the door. The collection maintains a careful balance between levity and seriousness. “2012” imagines bovine revenge in quirky comic verse: “Cows will take over one day, I swear!” “Mankind,” on the other hand, deplores violence but posits a peaceful force poised to overcome it: “yet, the dove, silent and swift, soars above / with seemingly endless love.” Memorable metaphors include “causing the soul to loosen its cuffs of distress” and “crows are playing / percussion on my roof / with little drumstick feet.” In a long narrative of his father’s heart condition, Defibaugh uses “HD” as clever shorthand for clarity of memory and deploys alliteration to track optimism breaking through: “Dawn came— / as did decent news. / I could delay my dreaming in dark hues. / Dad came home.” In “The Photograph,” homonyms (pieces/peace) and an internal half rhyme (dimmed/whims) show sonic progression beyond the dogged end rhymes of previous poems. References to the author’s condition are scant, although “Most Dynamic Parts of a Wheelchair” contends that many fail to see the individual beyond the disability, while sporting-themed poems such as “Marathoner’s Reincarnation” mourn lost physical fitness.
Inventive verses document both coming-of-age and coming to grips with illness.