by Kelly McQuain
Bloom Books (March 2014)
reviewed by Marc Frazier
This collection takes us on a journey back to our roots as individuals largely shaped by family. There are siblings here, parents, even a step-grandfather. Though the poet is gay, he is not slavishly bound to writing strictly from that fact. There is, thankfully, much of the universal here: finding our way in the world.
The book opens strongly with the accomplished poem, “Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers”. The poet asks, “What if you never meet/the person you are meant to be?” This begins the book’s motif of identity. There is also stunning imagery in this poem as in,
what kneels to drink in that dark?
what hooved thing—some player
of panpipes moving?
The second poem, “Alien Boy” is equally strong with lines such as, “Who among us could/tell which fear finally exhausts us?” It is a moving poem about the death of an infant. The poet observes wisely: “Each time a cell divides is a new chance/for the world to go wrong.”
The poem “Tongue” is a skilled and moving description of the physicality of erotic love thread through with the importance of language between two people, not just spoken language:
abound in your body, and I plan to master
the patois of each part, learn where bones divide
“Creation Myth” is a long, narrative, autobiographical portrait of the poet as a young man. It deals with identity, that of an individual and that of an emerging artist/poet. It is perhaps a bit detail laden, but it ends with marvelous and important questions about our sources and about the nature of storytelling:
If you were telling your story now,
whose shoulders would you balance on?
Where would you begin?
Where would you end?
“Brave” is a marvelous take on the poet as part of a male-bonding group of Cub scouts. It is a clever extended double-entendre on the meanings of “brave”. The poet struggles with his gay identity here:
I needed stealth, a new way to hide in the world:
patient as stone, elusive as water. I wanted to become
a stranger to myself, someone stronger in different skin.
Another strong poem is “Memory Is a Taste That Lingers on the Tongue”. It contains some beautiful language and imagery and brings alive what could be trite, a vacation for two lovers:
Later we cooked those fish
in our windy house as the sun went down
and the moon came out. Lights flickered inside
sailboats anchored in the little bay below.
This is a strong chapbook from a sensitive individual who is finding his way in the poetry world.
Return to table of contents for Issue 9 Summer 2015.