Wednesday, January 18, 2012
By Thomas Fitzgerald
Finishing Line Press
Reviewed by Dennis Daly
I remember Sister Therese Immaculata, one of the more enlightened Sisters of Charity at my school, explaining the tortures awaiting many of us in Purgatory. She described this state of being to our fourth grade class as a downscaled version of hell without too much fire, but with a lot of heat, loneliness, and a dreadful emptiness. On the upside, it was only temporary.
Poet Thomas Fitzgerald in his chapbook, Morning, recounts much the same sufferings as those detailed by that almost mythical nun of my long ago childhood. In Please Do Not Seize, Fitzgerald’s persona, like a moth caught in prison of glass and screen, becomes desperate in his need to escape his inner torments. He must keep his head about him if he is to survive. Even as he confronts the ghosts of his past, he admonishes himself to “wait” and “give it time.” This first poem sets the tone for his subsequent pieces.
In Child Bug, old flaws and new ghosts populate the poem that predicates addiction,
I feel like getting drunk tonight.
Looking at the crack on the top step,
the one that speaks every time I press it,
at the hole in the ceiling
from the time I raised my hands too high,
Or that I saw an old friend perfectly dead
eyes moving across the world.
Waking, a poem, which follows the downward spiral of a lost human with what appears to be complete honesty, confronts abject despair,
that I would be drunk
again—but alive enough
to see a woman wipe tears
from her freckled chin. I should
have known she’d say, I think
its time that you be leaving…
At the heart of this chapbook is an impressive set of pieces entitled, The Institution Poems. Here pain is mulled, dignity put aside, and death considered. Still, in the end, there is a green ribbon of life affirmation threading through them all. In the first poem the institutionalized narrator avers,
I have the thought:
It is good
my heart is beating.
Life and reality is worth holding on to,
I grip the peach in my hand
feel the juices run over my fingers.
Getting through this ordeal is much like Odysseus, bound to the mast, struggling against the pull of the sirens. Only here the poet’s persona deals with the draw of death as a child would,
I remember autumn
on the school bus
with the other children.
I remember how we held
our breath while passing
by the graveyards so the dead
would not haunt us.
He withdraws from addiction and seeks the surface of a different experience, almost a new birth,
My own sweat sticks
To me, heart overthrown, deep breaths, recalibrate.
I attempt to rise
Fingers run through my wet hair.
The fields are wet
There is a pretty funny, yet telling, metaphor in That Alcohol Thing. The third paragraph of this prose poem relates,
My great-grandfather had a friend who said if he died first he
would come back and tickle my great- grandfather’s feet at
night. My grandmother said after his friend died he wore
boots to bed for the rest of his life.
The poem, The Dark Water, Empty Again, ends with a very stark and well crafted image which touches on loneliness, addiction, and hope,
He walks past me without
hello and now I am truly alone.
The wind over my empty beer bottle
makes the sound of a ship headed home.
The Waiting Room is existential and quite sad. In this room doctors are mechanistic strangers, bureaucrats really,
Hour pass. Does anyone remember I’m here? Patients peer
through the locked windows to gawk at the new lunatic.
Doctors open the steel doors and pretend I do not exist.
Before redemption there must be penance and there is here,
… my mother crying. I remember that I
And also here in the poem, I Have To Sit On My Knees,
To no one, to everyone, to
the stranger on the street,
to the hawks, to the crows,
beer in hand I try
to say it out loud:
please forgive me.
Because There Is Light is the last poem in this collection and the most interesting. The images allude to religion and the saint who seems to be invoked is Saint Thomas—doubting Thomas. The poet desires to understand his vulnerability by reaching out to other good but flawed fellow travelers. He is wandering through the supermarket of life after the deli has closed. I’m thinking of Edward Hopper’s Nightlife perhaps, or even Van Gogh’s Night Café, for their after hour atmosphere. The poem ends this way,
And I wander still, aimless
from Frozen Dinners to First Aid,
desperate to reach out
to the next person who passes by.
To touch the wound of his life.
To stand quietly together
in the checkout line.