ON ONLY NIGHTS by Robert Cruess


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A volume explores nature, history, mortality, and the wonder of living in poetry and prose.

In this collection of 66 short works, Cruess (Time Is All We Have, 2017) revisits themes and techniques featured in his debut book. Whether inspired by the music of Rosanne Cash, Mama Cass, Leonard Cohen, Sarah Brightman, or Andrea Bocelli or by national tragedies like the Challenger explosion in 1986 or the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the author is able to construct thought-provoking texts in a concise manner. For example, in the prose piece “The Bridge,” he manages to connect disparate moments spanning several decades within the space of three pages: hearing news of the Chappaquiddick scandal in 1969 while working in Venezuela; spotting the infamous bridge from an airplane 10 years later; interacting with Edward Kennedy during the 1980 presidential campaign; and watching the 2017 film about the tragedy. Indeed, the author’s extensive travels provide many opportunities for observation and interpretation. Notably, solid Spanish skills are on display in his translations of a relatively long graffiti text spotted in Havana and a conversation with a cab driver in San Juan. An encounter with a street cleaner in Havana, recounted in the tale titled “Diego,” encapsulates the Mariel boatlift from 1980 and an ignominious return to Cuba years later. In terms of poetry, readers with a keen eye and an attuned ear will appreciate the consonance and assonance in his description of an earthquake: “The room moves / Like a rag doll / In a big dog’s mouth.” Cruess illuminates more mundane events in verse as well, such as spending a humid Easter weekend in Miami’s Little Havana: “Bed sweating wet / in the light of / a tropical / moon sucking breezes / through coconut palms.” Through creative use of line breaks, indentation, and gaps within lines, his verse often invites multiple readings. He also juxtaposes poems to great effect, such as “Old,” “My Dad on his 86th,” and “Papa, must I die?” The first represents the common experience of turning into one’s parents. In the second, he gazes down mournfully at his elderly father. And in the third, a father speaks to a child about death, closing with two tender lines: “Without thinking twice / I would choose this time    with you.”

A worthy collection full of memorable anecdotes and meditative verse.

Pub Date: Dec. 13th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-79161-678-6
Page count: 122pp
Publisher: Out Reach Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2020