|David R. Surette|
Poems by David R. Surette
Moon Pie Press
Review by Dennis Daly
These animal poems by David Surette, in his new collection entitled Stable, paw and hoof their paged-out floor and signal with enormous eyes the kinship and mutual dependency of all life’s creatures. They exhale a wonderfully natural sentimentality found, as much as we like to deny it, in our double helixes. The often postulated biblical responsibility that goes with humanity’s seemingly endowed dominion over lesser beasts pervades each verse and connects the poet to surrounding family, friends, and acquaintances in sometimes surprising ways.
Opening the collection with Aquarium, a poem that delves into the well-worn template of the soft-hearted tough guy, Surette personalizes the character type and utilizes the most unlikely life forms as objects of the proffered kindnesses. He also seems intent on making a point about altruism. The hero of the piece, the poet’s brother, uses good heartedness as a survival strategy that clings inseparably to the laudable acts of compassion. Initially speaking of his brother’s pet turtles, the poet explains,
They didn’t last long, and sometimes
their eyes swelled shut or their shell grew weak.
Steve learned what to do to save them,
fed them what they needed
and even bought drops when their eyes swelled.
He had fish too, guppies and gourami and African frogs.
This didn’t fit with the hockey Steve,
The fierce, quick tempered defenseman
or the Steve I saw in the empty lots by school
fighting all comers, throwing lefts
when they expected rights.
Defeat and life’s limits Surette muses on in After Watching the Bruins, a pointedly didactic poem with a message of stoicism. The poet’s dog, Maggie, acts the part of the wise teacher and Surette ties the dog’s lessons and the commonality of human failure neatly together in a splendid conclusion. The piece opens with the dog adapting quickly to human foolishness,
I walk Maggie to Devir Park.
At home plate, I set her free and
watch her round up imaginary sheep.
Once, while she ran through the outfield,
I hid behind a tree. She searched
the park as if it was a grid.
it took a while, but she found me.
The next night I hid again.
She went to the middle of the field
and sat until I showed myself.
Building a stable requires plans, wood, a quirky sense of humor and, most of all, an ability to hold one’s tongue in the face of studied provocation. The humor sneaks up on the reader in Surette’s poem entitled The Sawmill. Here’s part of the set-up,
He leads me down the hill
to the sawmill which looks
like it’s either half built
or half falling down.
I don’t ask.
In the center
so huge I expect
to see Pearl Purebread
tied down waiting for Mighty Mouse.
The whole operation is run
off the engine of an ancient pickup truck,
the belts stretch from it to the saw,
a liability nightmare.
I keep that to myself too.
Surette’s poem The Border Collie etches itself into one’s sense of other. It’s my favorite piece in the collection. The loyalty and responsibility of the poet’s dog in the face of adversity inspires awe, just as it triggers suspicion. How much should you anthropomorphize another species, especially one directly descended from wolves? Those loving and shame ridden eyes do, after all, have crosshairs built in. But, yet, the connection of touch and the space of separation translate into friendship as true as anything found in humanity. Our kind, after all, are killers too. Suspicion pervades all higher levels of civilization. Surette considers a bestial possibility,
Rowdy cowers at every harsh word,
assumes all our guilt.
He stares when it’s time to work,
Turns away when the stare is returned.
I can’t lie down in his presence,
refuses to rise in our home’s hierarchy.
I wonder if he’s just playing me …
In The Back Yard, a sturdy yet modest piece of five couplets, Surette suggests an invisible dream-world of Hadean shades leaving hints of its reality in natural decomposition. The imagery stuns with a strange combination of putrescence and hagiography. The saint involved is Veronica, who famously wiped the face of Jesus during the crucifixion passion. The poet identifies his numinous image after mowing the grass,
A young fox on its side. Fully furred. Empty eyes.
Legs extended like it died dream-running.
I fetched a shovel from the shed, pried it off the grass.
Under, the bugs had eaten him to the bones, his skeleton marvelous.
He left a shadow on the grass
like the cloth of Veronica.
A superb metaphor for the human heart, Stable, the title poem of this collection, invites hard work and life-affirming postures. Human beings need their tools, but nothing comes easy. The poet’s self-made stable is neither square, nor plumb. However with each added stall the artistry improves, as true in carpentry as it is true in poetry. Yet life rarely proceeds in an orderly fashion. Tragedy occurs more often than not. The poet’s family recommits to life,
A winter night, Stanley,
horse rolled in pain,
knocking down the walls of the first stall,
but it didn’t fall on him and kill him, but he died
the next day anyway.
I tacked up a picture of our remaining horse
at the feed store,
hoping for a fair price.
Then the girls bought two foals.
I rebuilt that damaged stall from the studs up.
Like his honestly constructed stable Surette’s collection of poems shelters wonderful qualities of fauna-nurture and pantheistic understanding that will endure the mercurial fashions of today’s poetic art.