Tuesday, October 06, 2015

House You Cannot Reach Poems in the Voice of My Mother And Other Poems by Tom Daley

House You Cannot Reach
Poems in the Voice of My Mother
And Other Poems by Tom Daley
Futurecycle Press
Lexington, Kentucky
ISBN: 978-1-938853-68-5
89 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

A respected local poet and esteemed (some would say, “beloved”) teacher of poetic craft pens his first full length book using his deceased mother’s voice in fashioning a persona that vents from deep within his (and, perhaps her), now unbridled unconscious. What could go wrong? If the reader answers to a highbrow persuasion he or she may consider the fate of Oedipus. Others may think with some trepidation on Norman Bates.

Well, be at ease. What Tom Daley does concoct is remarkable. Many of these penetrating pieces, taken together, stake out a claim for a new genre of modern poetry—certainly personal, decidedly expressionistic, but pointedly anti-confessional. While Daley clearly uses elements of Browning-esque dramatic monologues, his persona’s manipulation of daringly personal details and the self-referral direction of its singular voice verges on unique. It’s as if each page of poetry utilizes a palimpsest of Ouija board insights from the skinned souls of past and future ghosts. Daley’s invented persona speaks back to his own receptive ego, among other parties, with a profound sadness, a targeted truth-telling and, above all, toughness. 

My Mother Revisits the Scene of a Tryst with My Father at the Great Falls of the Potomac, the first poem of the “Mother” series and the second poem in the collection douses the reader with a romantic remembrance of early love. Daley words the scene lovingly, and adds in resistance and complexity of feeling with a seamless touch. The piece concludes with not a little narrative tension.

I still buckle
under the old taste
of your tongue’s slow bruise;
still fret, marking your hand,
mute and sly,
where it once worked its furious glee

I still listen for your torso
tuned square as a suitcase,
for the vows we soothed
with crossed fingers.

Here, in rapids
jostling a bilious remorse,
I drag back to your rampages
tricked out
as accomplice with scar.

Family tragedy generates unanswerable questions and opens the eyes of survivors to strange ironies and everyday absurdities. In My Mother Speaks with Two Police Officers Who Arrive at Her Door on Good Friday Afternoon Daley’s persona deals with the suicide death of one of her sons. Here’s a bit of everyday detail that the poet’s persona uses to absorb the oncoming waves of grief,

Gentlemen, come see our piano,
its black keys all stooped
by the weight of his knuckles.

Here’s a hope chest
where mothballs
seal the rot in his slapstick.

They hoard the stains where his T-shirts
sweated out Trotskyist proverbs.
Here’s a cruet for his chrism,

a vat for his vinegar.
See? That sticky flytrap
dangles his tear salts

with the smut of his incense.

Notice that the presence of the police officers turns an excruciating private interval into an almost public tour. But isn’t that what funeral rites do?

Daley shows his poetic range in a piece entitled My Mother Calls Her Portfolio Manager in the Middle of a Bad Week on the Market. The poet provides a comedic antidote for those who have lost their 401k and IRA savings in the manipulated and unsavory machinations of the stock market. His persona-Mother shows her laugh-out-loud archness and biting anger in a good cause. She complains,

What do you mean by subterranean economies?
If these dips are mavericks,
are they thirsty calves, then,
bleating for their brands?
I am wise to your feints, to your doping indicators,
to your tribe of tyro soothsayers who teethed
on their own sound bites.

Sir, I am proud
of my prudent weather. I never swore
off my sweeteners completely,
but I know how to stretch the dregs
in a bottle of ketchup. I cancelled the milkman
long before you cashed in your Krugerrands.

But, my man! This is slapdash, this is kidnapping!
This is all my collectables cheek-cheek
with the ukuleles
in the pawnshop window.
This is a deadletter box destination
for a mail-order bride.
These are the decades of tinned pilchards
against which you said you had me inoculated.

My favorite poem in this collection Daley entitles After a Stroke, My Mother Speaks to a Stuffed Pheasant in her Son-In-Law’s living Room. At first reading I thought the poet’s engagement with the stuffed bird bordered on the surreal. After a second read I realized my mistake and saw absolute logic in the poet’s monologue. Daley’s persona waits for death to make its move. In the meantime she marvels at the bird preserved beyond its time. During a peculiar set of stanzas the persona delves into the (D.H. Lawrence-like?) motivations of the pheasant’s killer and the kindness of his wife, the persona’s daughter. The poet says,

Give me back my girl’s ministrations.
Yes, her husband’s backbone is maimed,
but let her attend to my squalor,

my blatant and durable envy.
If her man is courteous,
His pockets are bulging with buckshot.

His hands are forever tying tiny lures.
His hunt fills my girl’s need.
He fishes her and fills her.

Throughout this book Daley peppers in non-persona poems which act as a sort of terra firma to the conjured up and versed metaphysics. One entitled Benediction especially caught my attention. Very much a tone poem, this piece signals a reconciliation between the poet and his dead brother. Daley couches all emotion in narrative, a detailed description of a snapshot on a bookshelf. It ends in an affecting prayer, with echoes of Francis of Assisi’s exhilarating canticle and the confessional. The poet concludes his piece this way,

Afternoon light honors and disturbs you.
Your smooth skin, your blue shirt have absorbed
their portion of the light.
What they shed is what I am given.

Bless with me now, brother,
the good ministrations of the daylight
that swaddled you then
and still frames
an unmendable chaos of loss.

No, nothing went wrong in this collection. Quite the contrary.

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