Wandzilak’s debut poetry collection spans a lifetime, musing on place, change, and mortality in light, occasional verse.
Built in the 1950s, the real-life East Deck Motel in Montauk, New York, was a mecca for beachgoers, surfers, and tourists of all stripes. But in 2015, its future was uncertain. In a sense, some of these poems, set at the motel, read as elegies—nostalgic celebrations of the seashore’s many moods. The title poem’s speaker reminisces about a night of love in the dunes, away from the crowd, and it’s gloomy with foreboding: “I could barely tell land from sea / I knew where I was, but not exactly.” With the lover’s “cold hand” in his, the speaker glimpses “the heart of a tear.” Other poems cast an eye over cultural high points, as in the longish poem “A Partial Autobiography.” The short, free-verse lines begin with oddity (“I was born with a remnant third nipple / I did not know what that meant for me”) but smooth out to more familiar touchstones: “I saw Yul Brynner play The King and I…. // I have seen the unicorns at the Cloisters //….I caught a wahoo in Turks and Caicos.” The oddity gathers and increases, however, in another cultural-event poem, this time on the occasion of seeing famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma in concert in 2013. The lilting cadence of “I ate elk with a runcible spoon!” proceeds to a playful but peculiar after-concert meal: “Later we fed Mr. Ma toasted farro / As he proceeded to eat my bone marrow!” Whimsy is one thing, but word-pairing for the sake of rhyme is another, as in this quatrain: “I have delivered fourteen lives / Each followed by fourteen placentas / Therein, I found elation upon this earth, / Unequaled to a dinner of lobster polenta.” The poet’s background as a surgeon also appears with a poetic nod to delivering bad news; in it, the narrator glances daily into a nearby cemetery, where a patient will soon be buried. A compilation of similarly medical-themed poems would be truly select.
An odd, nostalgic compilation, but a few poems about hospital patients see keenly into the condition of the individual body and soul.