The Moon in the Pool
Poems by Gary Metras
Review by Dennis Daly
Riding the downward arc of life through dreams of innocence and the corrupting madness of unresolved history, Gary Metras finds resolution and rebirth in the gravitational rush of flood waters and nature’s indifferent but wondrously mnemonic tokens. Right at the onset of this collection Metras stakes out his territory. In his piece Seven Stones for Seven Poems the poet considers how the human mind connects with the past utilizing tangible mementos infused with poetic power and timeless wisdom. But when the past intrudes, watch out. Unsettled memories and discomfort may ensue. Here follows one of the seven poetic sections, a telling but uncomfortable one,
In Biloxi, Mississippi, in the filth
I saw a stone so ugly
it could have been carried great distances
by trolls. I shot it
with spit, walked on and heard
someone shout, “Hey Yankee!
Fuck you in your Yankee asshole!”
I didn’t know it
then, but I was safer
walking among the beggars of Istanbul.
my own age asked me,
in their forceful way, to lick
and take it with me, which I did.
This is the stone of hatred.
Unrequited dreams command attention when they nuzzle into the work-a-day world of survival. Metras accommodates love’s ignored details in his aptly titled poem Working Class Villanelle. Hardships of patched denim and diapers and food stamps aside, dreamy obsessions will out. The poet’s sense of lyrical balance and tone in this formalized piece, which doubles as the title poem, leaves one breathless. The composition concludes with a measure of pluck,
Oh yes, work and denial have a grace.
But what becomes of the love
Drowning in the lack of midnight?
Come, moon. Come, shouts a ten year dream.
There is money in the bank to be spent.
The lovers are loving in the grace of midnight
In the moon in the pool.
Passing on a hammer from generation to generation serves multiple purposes. First, it gives one a token to remember the past. Second, it connects lives over time by creative function. Thirdly, it instils almost a godlike (think Thor) responsibility to pass on stored memory to those who come after. By this transfer of knowledge seniors offer continuing protection to human kind. Often this stored wisdom needs to be tweaked or repaired wholesale in the face of changing nature or alien threats. The importance of tools and practicality Metras reflects on in a poem that he, not surprisingly, entitles The Hammer. Consider these lines detailing the efficaciousness of this powerful symbol from the heart of the piece,
And now the hammer needs a new handle. Thirty years
of apartments and houses,
of shelves for clothes and books and out-grown toys,
of warped and ant-eaten clapboards,
door jams out of plumb, tree forts,
even the stuck faucet felt the hammer’s weight.
Its wood handle gripped and stained with sweat and
Its steel head dull but solid, older even than I am.
The wood handle split down the middle one day
when banging chisel to name a rock in the flower bed.
When the hounds of heaven are loosed Trappist monks and certain poets pray. Metras, after invoking the ghost of Thomas Merton, seems to number himself among those poets in this collection’s masterwork entitled The Rain, The Flood. In this seven section piece Metras’ Cistercian-like persona voices his personal stoicism in the face of collapsing society. Surrounded by the merciless music and madness of existence, the poet counsels acceptance and forgiveness. Water acts as a great destroyer, but also exhibits even greater powers of cleansing. Metras puts it this way,
Who questions rain
pitting the asphalt of our lives,
clotting in the turnings of culverts
and storm drains with the litter
of our lust, when all it wants
is that singular, downward journey?
Down the river bank
the old beech tree at the bend,
its roots rain-bared a little more
each year, will soon plunge
into the welcoming surge with
the grace of a clipped-wing angel.
Set in Istanbul Turkey Metras’ piece entitled Meditation on Chestnuts emits in its smoky timelessness an exotic fragrance indeed. I like this poem a lot. Outside the Grand Bazaar (I’ve stood in that exact spot—years ago) this purveyor of roasted chestnuts tends to his business through the centuries. Details change but the essentials survive and connect the ages. The poem opens inscrutably,
The chestnut roaster on the street outside
the Grand Bazaar ignores tourists coming
and going, ignores the glitter and noise
inside the shops, so busy cooking and
peeling, so intent arranging chestnuts –
arcs inside of arcs on the hot plate, row
after row, some cooked, some raw, all
arcing like a prayer…
Toward the end of the collection Metras places his poem April. Tulips and melting snow bring with them more unwelcome happenings. It is, after all, New England. Cruel jokes, thawing dead animals, and gossip carry the day. Yet there is beauty as seen from above by the universal lunar observer. The poet urges connection and cautious engagement and he expects nothing but the raw material of living. Metras opens this poem with man’s adaptation after the tumble of a failed dream. He says,
A neighbor is a builder. He loves April,
digs foundations, whistling. That before
the housing crash. Now he has some
sheep and goats. He doesn’t sing to them
as he shovels hay in, manure out.
These poems in total beget silence and contemplation. Like fast moving water from ice-packed heights, Metras’ words fall over us, crystalline and cleansing. Their impact: indisputably bracing.