I have a confession to make. I’ve been a rotten reader. In six months, I’ve read two novels, a few sporadic articles, and maybe one or two books of poetry—cover to cover. Maybe I don’t belong here. Maybe I’m an impostor in the ranks. But, whatever.
That said, I have my reasons for shelving my skillz for more potent, if untenable, desires.
Lately, as I’m climbing back into my reading chair and remembering how comfortable it can be, I feel this way:
I’ve looked for it under tables
among junkyard cats
fussing dead things.
Its letters turn
with barrow birds
in sleeves of warehouse glass.
the pampas grass,
one dry word seven summers long.
I’ve knelt in the twilight of idols.
I’ve chipped my teeth
on the bright water.
This is the final poem of Chad Sweeney’s book, Parable of Hide and Seek. “Its letters turn / with barrow birds / in sleeves of warehouse glass.” Read that aloud. Do you hear the rhythm? Do you see the fragility of language in the shards of warehouse glass?
Sweeney’s book is swimming in these charged moments. Its one of those twenty-five or so books I’ve had stacked on my desk to review for months, one of those books I’ve picked up sporadically and read a poem at a time. What I’ve discovered through my stunted reading practice is this: Duh, a good book of poems wants reading—and, sure, poets (and their friends and editors) spend a lot of time sequencing poems in a collection, thinking about narrative structure and flow—but Parable of Hide and Seek has convinced me that a good book of poems wants each of its individual poems savored, wants its vertices studied, wants you to read a poem to your dog each night before bed—more than it wants you to read it cover to cover with a fabricated purpose.
Here’s what I have to say about Parable: I dog-eared nearly every other page of the book. Parable’s strengths lie in its sonic rhythms, its attention to natural patterns, its strange mixture of technology and fable. While not every poem in the book makes me wild with grief and unquenchable thirst, many do, which is more than I can say for most books of poetry. Sweeney writes simultaneously into and out of our day-to-day lives, sometimes with the best kind of sadness, always with the ambivalence of a real live poet. The best thing I can say about this book is that the poems in it are meant to be read aloud—its rhythms mirroring its line breaks, its weird descriptions grounded in stanzaic regularity.
Parable begins with a heartbeat: “I listen to my heartbeat / on the radio, 89.6 a.m., / a prolapse then a whimper. // It’s fear and something else— / black milk, / static from a sermon,” establishing both the book’s rhythm and its concern with the ragbag of flesh-and-blood-and-upside-down-techno-living. We’re none of us fully ourselves, we’re mixed with fear and with an endless parade of voices, sometimes our own: “For me speech is / a way of touching, / a rummaging under / for what’s not meant // to be moved…” and sometimes not: “The language sold for millions / for its timbre and its shift.” In all instances, Parable wants to apprehend and comprehend the way we make stories and the way we live lives.
My favorite poem in the book, which in my imagination mirrors the book’s beautiful cover, addresses us, the reader:
The language sold for millions
for its timbre and its shift.
An attitude of cave flowers
in bouquets of yellow steam.
Before the funeral, before knowledge,
in the social arena, everything unsaid,
her the and his etcetera sang us to life
then pretended we were strangers.
In a two-dimensional house
the stairs are drawn of chalk.
A flat sun holds dominion
in the mirror, dear reader,
and the basement is a theory.
Jesus, the estrangement is gorgeous. Nothing exists until uttered or imagined. If we can see ourselves (our language) at all, which is iffy, we’re only flat semi-selves in mirrors. Language both births us and sells us short.
This book is like a pointillist painting, not because it actually is but because of the way I’ve decided to read it: tiny dots of various pure colors blending to produce a greater degree of luminosity. These are some dog-eared pages I’ll keep by my bedside for a long time, while I’m procrastinating, being lazy, dozing off with all the lights in the house still blazing.