Saturday, July 04, 2015

Until It Does Us In Myles Gordon

Until It Does Us In
Myles Gordon
Cervená Barva Press
ISBN 978-0-9861111-0-5

Myles Gordon begins this chapbook of 24 sonnets with a question, How is it we evolve from violence? This question is prompted by the suicide of his older cousin who was two generations removed from victims of the Holocaust in Poland. The poems are woven like the histories they probe—moving between 2013 and 1937.

We meet the cousin, addressed as ‘you’ throughout the collection, in 1967 as a teenager with “hippie hair” and then again in 1963, when his father is found “sneaking through/your sister’s dresser, underwear in hand” and thrown out of the house; at this turbulent point in the family history, “the good time cousin” is feeding a two-foot bong in the basement. Next, 1975, when the cousin’s father was beaten to death in a bar, Gordon writes: “No matter what you say or what you do/or how potent your stash, he’s with you now. It/plays itself in echoes in your heart,/slowly, methodically tearing you apart.”

Interspersed with these poems about the cousin’s life, are poems set in war-time Poland, in the 1930s and 40s. These poems, removed from the immediacy of the relationship with the cousin, are more evocative and poetic—less narrative-driven. In Sonnet 12, entitled, “1942 – Brona Cora,” the writing is especially powerful:

Shadows stretched: long limbs in morning sun;
a walking forest emerging from the trail
on muddy grass, dew shimmering green and brown,
long shadow bodies, heads providing frail
tree tops on the ground the beards the hats,
the headscarves, little girls’ long flowing hair
a forest canopy captured in shadow that
filled the meadow’s crevices everywhere.
There were so many. Shadows flowed like liquid
until forced into the ditches, ordered to lie
like cordwood. Shot. Blood seeping into mud
beneath a crisp and clear October sky,
the Jews of Brest Litovsk; the German gun.
The shadows dwindled, thinned. Then there were none.

The sonnet form, handled quite deftly by Gordon, lends itself to this difficult subject material, constraining the expression and thus deepening it. Gordon uses these poems to explore possible ways of understanding the despair of his cousin. The narratives in this volume offer up culturally and historically situated portrayals of individuals, while admitting that however much we attempt to understand what motivates human behavior, we are ultimately interdependent mysteries to one another.

Who can say where we begin? “We’ve lifted up our souls/like children picking up the fallen leaves/the wind caught, stuffed them in the shredding holes/inside our tortured bodies.” Where to find the fundamental hurt that turns a life into a soured search for death? Gordon looks to history—personal, familial, and political histories.  He portrays his cousin’s life as a stream made up of many tiny contributories, a stream that cuts a scar through hardened layers of bedrock, exposing the lasting and potent pain of violence.

Reviewer: Mary Buchinger Bodwell, author of Aerialist (Gold Wake, 2015) and Roomful of Sparrows (Finishing Line, 2008), teaches at MCPHS University in Boston, Mass.

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