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

68 Pages


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.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful review of Afaa Weaver's new book which I look forward to buying and reading soon. This is a good piece of writing dealing with the troubling shadows and the spiritual movement from them. Happy to read this today.
    --Carolyn Gregory, author, OPEN LETTERS