Friday, March 13, 2015

Beyond attention

In Sancta, poet Andrew Grace asks us to consider the pileated woodpecker: "Its gun-hammer neck makes to crack its beak into shards, just to suss out one puce beetle hidden in a wrinkle of bark. It is willing to break itself for hunger."

What hunger drives the speaker of this poem into the woods? We don't know. We open the book to find him living in a small cabin with someone whose leaving completes the first half. The second, solitary section finds him coping with cold and silence, with the sound of garbage trucks climbing a hill and the drumming of pileated woodpeckers.

Grace builds brief blocks of prose poems into a book-length work in which the speaker takes to the woods in an attempt to rebuild a broken life. The poems are studded with fresh metaphors:

And the wind pushes another load of used light over the horizon.

A convergence of kayaks makes the lake cross-eyed.

My mouth is seamed as a scar, debarred and redeemed.
But even as Grace excels at describing the natural world in new ways, he questions the sufficiency of such description: 
Do you ever feel like description is a filibuster against emotion? Today is boredom and the scent of cedar. I used to chide myself for being satisfied. Now I watch the lake's mirror etc. and I sing etc., etc.
More than anything, Sancta is a call to move beyond etc. and see:
Look, is all. The cabin. Look. The lake. Flies like quarter-carats of Hell festoon the curtain. Slipped fires take to the sky. Sweet pine strewn with nude opal birds at its base. O if only my attention led to something besides more attention.
Sometimes the looking becomes painful as Grace "navigate[s] the radiant aftermath of loss," but the invitation to look remains irresistible. Sancta wonders whether there are "other places as knotted with light and shade" and then takes us into the shade to shed some light on the dark places. What hunger drives him there? The hunger inside all of us.

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