Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Review of Louis McKee’s chapbook, Still Life, 2008, FootHills Publishing
by Tam Lin Neville
Louis McKee’s heart is often breaking, at age fifty and a bachelor, (if I can trust a poet to tell the truth.). But he looks at heartache from the vantage point of age, with understanding, with pain, but without self-pity. As the poet looks back on his life we are given instead wonder at the way his experience has grown richer and more layered over time.
Perhaps the book’s title is meant ironically, but if not, Still Life seems a mis-nomer. Nothing stays still in this graceful book. Memory keeps diving down into the past with the fluidity of a mind grown both dreamier and more honest with age.
Turning, diving – the poet’s sense of motion is expressed in a style so seamless, you forget it’s there. Only someone long practiced in the craft of poetry could write the following spare, yet evocative, poem.
How small, her hand
minus the rings.
They’re back in her room
rolled up in her heavy socks
just in case
someone should go rummaging
through her things.
Her hand, on the table top
in a roadside restaurant,
fidgets with the silver –
the spoon isn’t clean;
she waits for the coffee
she hopes will give her
something to hold on to.
Before the waitress can return,
I lay my own hand
on hers; how small hers is,
and her fingers, so bare, cold.
The rhymes and slant rhymes of “rings,” “rummaging,” “things,” and “clean” slide me effortlessly into the poem. Almost before I know it, I’m concerned about this women I know so little, and so much, about. I feel her fragility, paranoia, the way her sensitivity searches out the smallest disturbing detail, the unclean spoon in the roadside restaurant.
McKee writes often of women and with real yearning – always gentle, inquiring, never rapacious.
At fifty he is still unable
to forget about the sixteen year old girl
he thought he loved when he was eighteen.
He thinks he loves her now,
and every day he considers telling his wife
about this girl who is not sixteen at all,
but nearly fifty, although she looks sixteen still,
at least to him, the way he sees her.
He wants to crack through the silence
of the dinner table, and unpack the bag
he’s been carrying up the steps each night;
he is paused at that step, now, so near the top,
because he is tired, and it would go easier
if he were to lighten his load, get ride of
the bag that is weighing him down,
making every step hard won.
He wants to tell his wife about the girl,
about the life that might have been,
the thirty years he’s missed, thirty years
that she thinks she knows, but
which are not the ones he was meant to live,
and he knows it is the difference
in those thirty years that he loves,
more even than he loves the girl,
the sweet pretty sixteen year old, the woman,
now near fifty, more than her.
When you are alone with this book it becomes a welcome partner, someone to spend time with on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in a café surrounded by twenty and thirty year olds. For myself, soon to be 64, I can’t help feeling there is so much these young ones can’t see. Reading Louis MeKee, I feel that my age has given me an advantage – there is so much I can see.
To read this small elegant chapbook, hand-sewn with poems well-set on the page, is to experience again that buoyancy, that sense of release from time and space constraints, that only poetry can give.