Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: The Book of Shadows

This review is part of the Green Books Campaign, bloggers reviewing books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper to try to make everyone more aware of "green" books. The folks at Eco-Libris sent me a copy of Carlos Reyes' New and Selected Poems, The Book of Shadows, which is printed on recycled paper. I didn't see any difference between this paper and the paper in other volumes of poetry I've read, even after my attention was drawn to it.

The Book of Shadows was my introduction to the poetry of Carlos Reyes, and I enjoyed the way his subjects range from Portland, where he now lives, to places like Panama and Ireland. There are poems about the loss of love, about survival, and about ships, gambling, and Alaskan Yupik spirits.

Many of the poems are deceptively simple, like this one, where the simplicity is self-conscious and starkly illustrated:

Once There Was a Way, Maybe

How to get back
to the simplicity of it
--the skating
on the small pond, on thin ice--
where it was always possible
to break your nose
over a girlfriend
and live through it,
to get your heart broken
and get over it right then
and there.

Years later
things are not so simple.
Your head is a balloon
full of words, your fingers
something like honeyed batwings
(when they come to visit),
reality something
poking through on rare occasions
full of bones
on Sunday afternoon:
a plastic bag
full of chicken
but bones all the same
when the picnic's over.

There's a series of poems about what shadows do, and this one is my favorite, Shadow Piscator:

A shadow can fish
If you have seen

what happens
when clouds get

between the sun
and water on the lake

You'll know what I mean
the fish go crazy

If shadow
has a bucket or a net

or can cup his hands
he will catch many fish

What I liked best in this volume--and perhaps it's just because I've been collecting so many autumn poems since September--are his poems about autumn:

A Few Days Before September

I am under
a pale finger-
nail paring moon,

jarred from my reverie
by an intensely silver
almost wingless propeller-
driven airplane

across the zenith
of my pleasant
Sunday morning,

awakening the still
dead, those sleeping, those
with hangovers,
those with morning after

those who thought
today was their day
and nothing more,

to the dying of time
that this might be the last
most beautiful day
of summer

when all
the natural world
is on the verge.

Beauty gives way
to grim survival
in a corner
less lit by the sun.

I love that one purely for the line breaks in "the last/most beautiful day/ of summer."

And this next one... I wouldn't have thought any other poet could put the cap on my autumn theme after Merwin's poems yesterday, but the ending of this one is a fitting ending to the theme--not an ending, really, but a fading:

In the Fall

I walk the dangerous edge
of damp graveled roads
the perimeter of aging forests
the changing leaves
the gold instead of green
twirling in a colder wind.

How I enjoy
the smell of wild apples
beginning to turn cidery
with bitter frost
crabapples like dim lanterns.

Hoping for one more day
before the rains arrive
I walk down the leafy lane
to see a break
in the clouds and bright
sun once more

before winter tightens
its jaws around the trees
before the grey pulling
clouds suffocate the wind
before lakes, rivers and seas
fall from the heavens
drown every green thing
fading all green all gold
to dull and papery pale.

This is indeed a book of shadows, of things already out of sight. And it's about seeing the world in such a clear-eyed way that you no longer believe you can sew a shadow back on to stop anyone's crying.


FreshHell said...

Poems about fall & winter (death) depress me. Sigh. Wake me up when it's April.

Garth Brooks Tickets said...
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Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I just picked out some of the sad ones. How about this:

I Feel Like...

My uncle on his way home from town
late one night, walking the tracks...
As he was crossing a trestle
he heard the train coming. He quick
hopped down and hung by his hands
from a railroad tie until the train passed.
Not knowing how far his feet were from the ground
he hung there like that the rest of the night.
At daybreak he discovered his feet were exactly
four inches from the ground. It made him
so goddam mad
he hung there until sundown.

FreshHell said...

Well, that's a little better. But frightening. And silly.

avisannschild said...

I love these poems, especially the first one! (I'm a fan of deceptively simple poetry.)

Serena said...

I love the poems you included in this review. There are so many great poetry collections included in the green list this time. I'm finding many good books.

Jeanne said...

Avisannschild, glad you like it.

Serena, glad you like them too, and thanks for the heads up about the green books campaign.

bermudaonion said...

I like the poem you featured in the comments section a lot! It made me laughed. I can't tell when a book is printed on recycled paper either - makes you wonder why they don't use it more often.

Jeanne said...

Kathy, glad you liked it--it made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. And yeah, the green books thing is absolutely a no-brainer.

Cschu said...

Loved these poems, Jeanne! Thanks for sharing them.

Jeanne said...

CSchu, yer welcome.