Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Come Over and Help Us By Kevin Gallagher

Come Over and Help Us
By Kevin Gallagher
Aldrich Press
Hemet , California
ISBN: 13: 9780692022436
37 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

In our brutish lives of bread and circuses poems that touch our sensibilities must speak to us in ensorcelled ways. Some poets show us the numinous hidden in everyday objects and the possibilities of contentment among those objects; other poets urge on rebellions of universal thievery and religious heresy. Kevin Gallagher presents us with both of these views, and all within his modest but provocative collection entitled Come Over and Help Us.

The title itself exudes a film of irony over Gallagher’s poems before you crack the book. It comes from the Massachusetts Bay Colony seal and refers to the Indians inhabiting New England in the 1600s and their supposed need of missionaries and the goodness that flows from commercial trade. Besides this logo, the seal had the image of a placid-looking Indian with an arrow pointed downward symbolizing peace. The new colonists, however, had more in mind than sharing benefits (and there were some!) with the Native American peoples. Gallagher’s persona relates an aspect of what followed in sonnet III of his opening sequence,

Once I had some all I wanted was more
So I had to rob the entire store

But after I ran out onto the street
I became drenched with rain, pelted with sleet

So I realized I had to dry the place
By sucking up the entire sea

Until it made balloons out of my face
That lifted me above forests and trees

So I could look down at it all and see
That all of it had to be mine, all mine…

The poet complains of a society that cannot understand how the play acting of do-gooders can turn into an anarchist’s violent rage. Romanticized Robin Hood characters and happy hobo stereotypes only carry a broken society so far. Gallagher’s persona makes his point in the closing lines of sonnet VI,

So now is the time to put on your mask
And hide under the bridge with the trolls

It’s easy for you to step to the task
Blow dynamite for heads to roll

It’s amazing that some people moan
When so many hearts are open and roar

Mulling over the new national order in sonnet IX the poet balances freedom against safety. Not surprisingly, freedom loses. Neither can one count on divine intervention. The poem ends this way,

Lines between risk and hope have to sever
When trying to be safe but also free

We cannot count on angels to hover
In our sunny world of uncertainty

There’s only one way to guard the safe
Let no one inside or out of this place

This poet wears his idealism on his sleeve. He speaks of a children’s crusade in sonnet XII for God’s sake. When these visions gain reality something very bad usually happens. But I quibble. The poet’s heart is good and that counts for a lot. One provocative image in this surreal setting follows. Gallagher cautions us,

From one bloom can come a thousand flowers
Each one of them powdered with pollen on top

So when we sneeze all seeds are released
And new Bethlehems everywhere are born

Scores of children on a mission for peace
And let it be known we have been warned

If we don’t close our eyes we cannot see
All the punctuation we need to live…

Parishioner’s Song, a poetic hymn of troubling despair, drives home the limits of religious ceremony. After describing the Catholic rites of communion and processional Gallagher lets reality intrude in the last couplet. The poem concludes,

We fill our chests and sing in unison.
We sound like one voice singing very loud.

An altar boy proceeds first with the cross,
he is followed by the deacons and priest.

We all continue to sing for the cause
begun three days after the final feast.

For these few moments no one here is lost.
The families leave in arms all in one peace.

Perhaps the most curious poem in the collection, Dead on Wheels, Gallagher dedicates to Boston Brahmin poet John Brooks Wheelwright. Among other things, Wheelwright wrote a poem entitled Come Over and Help Us (A Rhapsody). He was also an unapologetic Marxist whose poems could barely contain his rage against society. Gallagher details that lost Brahmin culture of brightly colored oak doors, raccoon coats and canes (always canes) neatly. Then the poem takes a turn toward elegy; it becomes a lament for Wheelwright. The poem opens with these lines,

Strong oak doors on Back Bay roads have bold
colors because the Brahmins would go blue

and say “take me to the end of my road,
the bright red door before the Castle!”

Modernity took a heavy toll
by 1940 they’d drive home themselves.

My favorite poem in this collection, Chorus, Gallagher uses as his final piece. It is a tightly controlled villanelle and an unsettling political poem. I believe he references atrocities in the “dirty war” which took place in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Here’s the heart of the poem,

Thrown from helicopters in the sky
then washed on the banks of the River Plate.
They got to play god with all our lives.

Decided who lived, decided who died.
So we cried and marched every Thursday.
It’s hard to find out your life is a lie.

That is what motivated us to try.
That is what motivated us to pray.
They tried to play god with all our lives…

Gallagher’s humane and determined poems collar you and demand attention. It is one of the best collections of poetry that I’ve seen this year.

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