A debut collection offers meditations on the beauty of life and the inevitability of death.
This volume features free verse, prose, and a unique hybrid of the two. As the title suggests, Cruess’ focus here is on mortality, but he approaches this topic from many angles. More often than not, he considers the pressing nature of living one’s life to the fullest. The author sets the tone of gratitude right from the outset, where he imagines that he would enjoy existence even if he were a ginkgo biloba leaf. Cruess describes routine pleasures, like feeling a Los Angeles sea breeze in “Beneath cool sheets” or simply coming home (“i sip my wine and wonder why— / i ever would leave this place”), as well as unforgettable moments such as the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Several deeply affecting works, presented consecutively, address his aging mother’s decline, death, and funeral services, concluding with the simple yet heart-ripping line: “Well, I’m home now, in my slightly smaller world.” In addition to techniques like reduced punctuation and limited capitalization often found in free verse, the author notably employs nonstandard spacing, which allows readers great liberty in creating their own linkages and ruptures between phrases. As these textual gaps catch the eye, readers are free to wonder what they might signify: sudden realizations or doubts, a mental or verbal stutter, a gasp or a sigh, overwhelming emotions like exasperation and awe? Cruess’ combination of poetry and prose is perhaps most effective in “Agnes,” in which he regrets his childhood impatience with his maternal grandmother, who suffered from dementia, and worries that he may share the same genetic predisposition, envisioning a bleak future: “And only now and then / have a moment of clarity when i would know / that i was living in a fog… / …a vertiginous fog.” In contrast, the author also includes some lighthearted prose pieces like “Merry Christmas…you Bitch,” which recounts his wife’s interaction with a discourteous state trooper, and “Rising Unnoticed,” where he recalls an unexpected encounter with a hotel mirror while feeling the effects of alcohol and marijuana.
A creative, impressive reminder of the importance of embracing all that life has to offer: sensations, emotions, observations, and experiences.