wreck/age: an odd little book
Alien Mouth Books, 2015
reviewed by Donna Vorreyer
Not odd at all, this gem of a book gives us a narrator whose “holy mess” of a life is a love affair with the sea, a sailor who is one of the “strongarms and loudmouths” drawn by salt and waves at the expense of all other desires. Divided into three sections, the book follows the narrator’s life from his earliest days to goodbye. In “Slack Water,” we get an origin story of sorts:
“at age 2, your father says he will teach you to swim.
teaching you to swim is tying you into a sack,
weighting the sack with stones,
dropping you in.
the water hits like a delivery room slap
of cold white roar and WAKE UP BOY
THIS WORLD IS NOT IN LOVE WITH THE IDEA OF YOU
THIS WORLD IS NOT GENTLE OCEAN AND WARM BELLY
THIS WORLD IS BIRTH AND BLOOD AND MURDERED LOVE”
The suicide of the narrator’s father and mother are co-mingled with the butchering of a whale, the “holy mess” of the whale’s guts also referring to the father’s bloody death, the “red ribbons” of the whale’s intestines the same as the mother’s self-inflicted stab wound.
But it’s not all darkness and blood in the waves. In the second section, the narrator finds a wife, a lover who
says some whispered thing
about finding what was lost
and marks an X across your chest.”
Still, the sea is too strong a magnet, and he thinks of the wife everywhere. In “I recall Shanghai,” he compares her to a New Year’s celebration there.
“Her hair is ribbons of fireworks,
and Her teeth are a hundred lanterns going up and up
and Her evening gown is sheer light
and Her collarbones are light
and Her eyes are light, and eyelids too
and O yes sirree, my Wife is light”
In the third section, the narrator realizes that he has lost a chance at happiness, questions his choices, and realizes that the wife must have given up long ago:
“What kind of life is this? To wait so endlessly.
To raise a boy, who knows you only as a myth.
A daughter who knows you only as a name.
How do you leave someone so far away?
How do you cut away an already phantom limb?”
This narrator’s journey is filled with pain and loss, yes, but also with wit. (His tattoos of a pig and a rooster, the animals most likely to survive shipwrecks, speak in each section of the book). And although these poems don’t shy from the harshness of loss, there is a world of tenderness and beauty here. Moran and Kindt have collaborated on a collection that is at once experimental, narrative, and touchingly lyric, a mix of forms written with one true and memorable voice.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016)and A House of Many Windows (2013) both from Sundress Publications, as well as six chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Redbird Chapbooks. She is the reviews editor for Stirring, and she teaches middle school in the Chicago area