Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The Government of Nature By Afaa Michael Weaver
Somerville poet Afaa Michael Weaver has a new collection of poetry out The Government of Nature. I asked poet Dennis Daly author of The Custom House ( Ibbetson Street Press) to review this book....
The Government of Nature
By Afaa Michael Weaver
University of Pittsburgh Press
ISBN: 13: 978-0-8229-6231-1
Review by Dennis Daly
These poems of Afaa Michael Weaver take you by the hand, like a trusted grown-up takes a child, down a landscaped and stylized pathway of disturbing memories, family ghosts, and familiar, even endearing, internal landmarks. The cadences are well wrought, formal (in the sense of elevated language), and beautifully rhythmic. In some poems the rhythm delivers a near chant. In others it becomes a strangled but pulsed whisper.
Weaver covers some dangerous territory here. The power of this poetic collection derives from his meditations on his own experiences as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by an uncle. So much could have gone wrong in the writing. But it doesn’t. Without hatred or self-pity Weaver strikes just the right tone with intelligent contemplation and a pretty remarkable understanding of evil’s context.
The poems themselves seem to bridge a psychic divide between the horror of past predation and the solace of a future life. In the poem The Path Weaver describes his trek into an alternative peace this way,
With my umbrella I stumble, too lonesome
for the way water soaks into the skin in the thunder,
listening for the sound of the eagles circling
above the lost children of wild pigs or what can be
caught and carried in the talon. My hands are
not free, too busy with trying to keep cover
on my head. The stones have another meditation,
a kind of counting to music. Touch me, they say,
and a thousand stone paths will make their way to me.
Once in the night when it is dry, when the pretty
rain of mountain springtime was suspended,
I walked this path to the dream of where we live.
Again using rain and water as unifying factors Weaver in his piece entitled The Ten Thousand constructs a gauzy memory palace in which reality must be faced and imagination deciphered. The poet says,
If I write without color it is to obey the gray way rain brings
the past to us. The ten thousand are one giant palace with a room
for remembering, where you must stand alone, touch and believe
while it seems you are touching nothing and have gone mad
in this life, this gift. We are sitting on a rock in the thick falling
of water, purple lilies are growing in the sun’s ocean shadow,
sheep with golden wool are flying in the trees, a patient monkey
is bandaging a wounded blade of grass, the garden is a mesa,
seeds are mountain caves, the moon has gone infinite, made
two of its own selves for each of our palms. Now we have faces.
This poem flows wonderfully. Between surreal images Eastern thought connects with Christian mythology. Doubting Thomas is even here touching the wounds of his Redeemer.
Some of these poems are quite explicit and troubling. The poet, however, has a point to make about the damage that can be done to a child and the burden that that child carries throughout his life. This image from Weaver’s poem Looking Up from the Naked Bed I found particularly affecting,
One Spring I find myself with a woman,
craving love’s raw way, getting high on sex,
thrill of skin and breasts, losing myself,
my medication for my heart failing to slow
my addiction until this door opens, above
what I call love. I see myself, a child,
feel the hands of the man carving
the cross I carry, its totem marks.
A little over halfway through the book the fiercely protective poem Remember crouches like a lion. Weaver dedicates this poem to his granddaughter. It begins as a charming childhood litany. Listen,
If I forget to plug the sun,
let me know
If I forget to tame the sharks’ teeth,
let me know
If I forget to stop the tsunamis
let me know
If I forget to tie up the bears,
Let me know…
The poem continues with the same rhythm but ends quite differently and quite grimly. Here’s the last three sections,
If I forget to outlaw nightmares,
let me know
If I forget to put perverts away,
let me know
If I forget that the divine thing
moved inside me to write this,
the thing that can do all things,
let me know
let me down easy
into the earth.
In his title poem, The Government of Nature, the poet addresses his body directly. He again goes to a place of memories in order to find himself and negate those same memories and confront the monster, who propagated them. He says,
I come with you to places I cannot go alone, as alone
I would be only the decision to be, not the things
I cannot explain to anyone, except in the privacy
Of a piety I have had to own, a profound saintliness
That came to me in places too foul to remain buried…
My favorite poem in this book and one that gives this collection a gentle and positive gravity Weaver entitles Scrapple. It portrays good people trying to do the right thing and make the best of life’s mix of good and bad. Here, for instance, is Weaver’s loving description of his father,
…in the good times, between
the strikes and layoffs at the mills when work
was too slack, and Pop sat around pretending
not to worry, not to let the stream of sweat
he wiped from his head be anything except
the natural way of things, keeping his habits,
the paper in his chair by the window, the radio
with the Orioles, with Earl Weaver the screamer
and Frank Robinson the gentle black man,
keeping his habits…
Weaver’s book transforms the unnatural nightmares of a damaged childhood into something transcendent, warm and wondrous. This is beyond poetry. This is alchemy.