Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Far Cry Poems by Tom Daley


Far Cry

Poems by Tom Daley

Handmade book by Sara Lefsyk

For Ethel Zine & Micro Press

46 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Mischief meets elegiac mournfulness in Tom Daley’s new chapbook, Far Cry, in which the poet summons up the ghost of a close but estranged gay friend and searches through evocative imagery and shared memories for an understanding, a resolution, and, most of all, a final embrace. Unexpected religious and erotic juxtapositions deliver both edgy wit and good-natured humor. And, most impressively, throughout this poetic sequence, Daley utilizes impeccable word choices that result in very high-level, almost objectified, confessional pieces. In short, Daley’s diction sparkles.

Obituary Picture, the first poem in Daley’s collection, begins the festivities by invoking and connecting a conclave of words signifying church officialdom (cardinal, bishop, pope) to the processes at hand: forgiveness and healing. The deceased friend’s pictured attire strikes the poet as especially vivid and implies flamboyant powers, perhaps even those of absolution. Consider these opening and pertinent lines,

Your dear and dangerous mouth is open

to the sunlight. In your red jersey

and perfectly white t-shirt,

you are a cardinal on holiday.

No mistake that you boasted

that the bishop who baptized you

later elected a pope. Your teeth

are touching, they might be grinding

forgiveness or trust into a fine

powder. You are the chosen


My favorite poem in this collection is Infant of Prague. Very funny, very blasphemous, and not a little bizarre, the poem strikes home to those of us steeped in the minutiae of Roman Catholic tradition. Not only did many churches have altars devoted to this ornate iteration of the crowned Christ Child back in the day, but many families had their own Infant for home-based devotions. The statue was introduced into Ireland during the 1700s and became very popular. Daley uses the decorativeness and formalness of the imagined statue to incite mock horror between two friends returning from a night’s drunk, and with it a closeness of shared hilarity, now lost in lament. Here’s the heart of the poem,

Oh my God! It’s an Infant of Prague!

Only you could have conjured

that crowned Christ Child with the orb

that the Altar Guild outfitted

in different gowns for each

liturgical season—purple for Lent,

white for Easter—on a side altar

of a Roman Catholic church,

out of a sack someone had left

on a staircase in the dim light. Only you

could knuckle my funnybone so,

you hand curling up,

fingers digging into my wrist

as if hanging on for dear life

Daley’s title poem, Far Cry, suggests both the literal (long distance) and idiomatic (big difference) definitions of the phrase. We are talking life and death here, or are we?

Passion needs release. Impulse cannot be contained by deliberation. The ritual of written poetry may span distance, but it is very different from sensual memory. Its ululations rebound and echo but are, at least directly, unconnected. One may find positive advantage here. Daley describes the experience thusly,

a truncated hiccup fused

with the urgent, inhaled coo

of a woman trying to suppress

the commotion of her passion

so as to not disturb her neighbors.

The cry repeated itself

With the heft of ritual syllable,

Accelerating, amplifying …

In his poem Death Is the Only Daley outs himself as a co-conspirator with death. His poetry not only conjures up a spirit marked with utmost urgency but disturbs the neatness and permanence of death with mnemonic traces of messy, unruly life. Words alone must, need to fail. But the poet’s unholy alliance with the beyond seems to succeed, then decidedly leads to a marvelous metaphor of resolution,

I have conspired

with death to keep

your oblivion at bay.

What is it you would wish me

To do with death?

I can hardly avoid cranking

death open to permit

the ferocity of your predicaments

to tattle me upright.

I am now, in your mind’s eye,

An excuse for death

To leave some dribs of you behind

Over the drab drayhorse of time.

Like all serious poets Daley struggles with the ineffable. His poem I Address the Virtual Impossibility of Conjuring You with Verses that Are Merely Descriptive illuminates the conundrum he faces. Mixing the profane with the pious Daley undercuts his title, winking to his readers between his “merely descriptive” lines. This poet excels in teasing out past grievances and ironies. The poem concludes this way,

To the north,

a khaki top or an immaculately

white t-shirt that you had probably ironed.

There were always men in the woodwork,

splintering or shying under the wide

rabbit trap of your eyes. Always

a feast being prepared

in the scorching pockets

of your salivary glands.

Always a haunch

waiting to be palmed,

a genuflection waiting

to be blessed.

Daley titles one of his last pieces in this collection, Am I Any Closer? And in truth he is that and more. By his skill and consummate craft, the poet has confronted the roguish admonishments, irascibility, and unwanted verdicts from his fractured relationship with his deceased friend and has factored in the sweet and moonlit jubilance of imperfect life, all within time’s poetically amendable imagery. By his very act of creation, Daley, with each reading, bridges the unbridgeable. A tour de force.


  1. Anonymous8:03 PM

    Quite a wonderfully long review. The poems sound wonderful for a winter's reading. Hope you plan one, Tom. Thanks for contacting.

  2. Anonymous3:07 AM

    A great review of a very fine poet. Death takes us one at a time but this tour de force aims at fathoming Death once and for all.