Monday, April 19, 2010

What I'm Reading: the brother swimming beneath me

55º ~ the clouds have returned after days and days of sun, I long for rain but am not hopeful

It seems that a weekend spent grading and clearing the decks of schoolwork has afforded me a chance to do a mini-review today. Yay!

I know that during my AWP posts I mentioned several books that I "couldn't wait to read on the plane home." It turns out, I was more tired that I could have imagined and I only managed to read one book on the plane, Brent Goodman's the brother swimming beneath me. It is a testament to the strength of the individual poems and to the book as a whole that I was able to read and engage with this book through my fog of exhaustion and a very loud passenger one row back and two seats over who was a nervous flier and kept talking about plane crashes and how God didn't mean for people to go "flitting about" in the sky.

Goodman's book coalesces around the death of the speaker's brother from leukemia; however, one of the reasons I love this book is that it does not focus solely on this death. The book broadens into a larger dialogue between being alive in this world in all our diverse natures and accepting our mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. It has a three-part structure: the first, those larger dialogue poems; the second, the brother-focused poems; and the third, a series of prose poems that blend the two.

While the long poem "Maier" grounds the book and contains many fine lines, such as "They drew the seeds of your new blood / by hammering hollow nails through skin / to reach the dark marrow inside my bones," it is not the poem that made me write "WOW" in the margin. The poem that took the top of my head off is a political poem, something I've never been able to tackle in my own work. Goodman's "'Armless Iraqi Boy Bears No Grudges for U.S. Bombing'" nearly undid me on that plane ride home from AWP. Here is the opening:

We know it is difficult to look at
when parts of him are still missing.
It will take some time for his charred skin
to completely slough off. It will take longer
for his arm stumps to forget how to carry
and for the two ragged holes to close.
His condition is improving. We have replaced
his eyes with rubble, he ears with crosshairs,
his mouth a khaki radio. We know
it is difficult to look at. ...

Another poem that wows me every time is "Evaporation," which I first read on Linebreak. It sent chills down my spine that first time I read it, and it continues to do so on re-reading. The link here will take you to the poem, and it's a little long to reprint here.

One of the things I admire most about Goodman's book is the range he displays in form and content, yet the entire thing holds together so well. Let me leave you, Dear Reader, with the last poem in the book, one of the prose poems. Please image a margin that is both left and right justified.

"[past lives]"

Redhead suicide, scarlet fever, holocaust, third rail, stillborn.
Best not to blame past lives for migraines, luck, regret, or
deja vu. Haifa. Sapporo. Luxembourg. Eden. Each life learns
to outlive the last. Eat rich meals, fuck, haunt museums,
Eurorail every hostel from Amsterdam to Zabreb. Chalk a
line around your silhouette near the fountain. Pray your
children may survive you. Dear mystery: are you the outline,
shadow, earth or sun?

I was lucky enough to bump into Brent Goodman at the book fair at AWP and to swap books with him. I know I'll be waiting, eager for his new poems and next book.

rt a Poet/Poetry: Buy or Borrow this Book Today!
the brother swimming beneath me
Brent Goodman
Black Lawrence Press, 2009

No comments: