We grew up hearing war stories. The man next door came to beside his downed plane, and discovered someone cutting off his finger for his ring. In the backyard, we shot the pistol he'd taken from an Italian officer. My father hunted men in the caves of Okinawa. His friend found the skull of a Japanese soldier there, polished it to a bright sheen, and sent it home to his father. Down the block, a neighbor gave his son a handful of photographs—women playing with their breasts, a man entering a woman from behind, a group of soldiers standing in a circle around someone with a sword. Such extravagant, incomprehensible gifts: the women, the gun, a man kneeling beside his own head, which had fallen a short distance from his body.
This stellar poet's five prose poems begin with the passage, "We grew up hearing war stories. The man next door came to beside his downed plane, and discovered someone cutting off his finger for a ring." Through those two sentences gleam the experience of "coming to" through the revelation of poetry. Luckily, for the reader, we wake to the energy, ambition, perception and morality of this powerful gathering. The speaker observes the impressionistic memories that paint-in our world, much like poems do, engaging with the white space around the isolated facts. "I can't remember everything. I can't remember the name of Vic Silver's wife, though I recall the number tattooed on her arm, the iron fence around their house, the grates on their windows, the alarms, and the gems hoarded in their basement." These lyric sentences roll across the page and bring with them the scene as it was first seen and now understood. In the last poem, the speaker discerns, in the fully known routine drive home, "trees marking each farm with a pattern distinct as a fingerprint," each part of the landscape reflecting the interwoven relationships of the familiar—and then, what's this? "I glimpsed the fluorescent rust of a Dawn Redwood about to drop its leaves. I'd driven past that tree a hundred times before, and never noticed it," the poem ends. So, again, we come to, too.