By Mary C McCarthy
In “Red Truck Bear” Richard Nester asks the most necessary of questions: what, like the moon, is in plain sight, yet unfathomable? The moon hides nothing, thinks nothing of us, looks back at us “with no discovery on its mind at all/ and even less concealment.” The moon, like the world we inhabit, is opaque in its stubborn “thingness,” cares nothing for us as we weave our webs of choice and action in its reflected light. In the wickedly funny “Wild”, forsythia, that early flowering plant often welcomed as harbinger of the new season, becomes a devouring nightmare, product “from a mating of kudzu with barbed wire.” Here nature is neither benign nor indifferent but actively malevolent. We are counseled to “Forget its pastoral sham,” beauty disguising the fact that “Forsythia hates you,” intends only its own good, and will gleefully overrun all your hopes and plans, punish you with slashes, poke out your eyes, finally even “devour houses and spit out the bricks.” Completely unsympathetic to us and our cherished sensitivities “It will eat your dog.”
All a hilarious exaggeration, yet the kernel of truth it proclaims can’t be denied. Empathy is only possible in the human world, not inherent in nature, and when it exists at all it is an “itty-bitty seed,” rare and hard, small and yet essential for any dream of the future. The job of the poet and storyteller is to make something out of the “Indecipherable,” to “convince you of your own indecipherable worth.”–”so you can go on and not give up.” Poetry may be like prayer, holy and essential, a saving grace.
Humanity, empathy, justice, love, all the hard things these poems strive to find and define, while illuminating their complexity and challenge. What we know is that “broke things stay broken,” and the enormous task of healing is an arduous process, where the damaged “have to be cleaned one breathing bird at a time” The theme of restoration occurs again and again in the idea of cleaning, of making things clean, even though “Clean” is an invitation to dirt, and “Too much cleaning up and one starts to see dirt everywhere.” To clean something becomes an act of faith and love, an insistence on hope. It is interesting that the principal character in the poems who does this restorative act is the poet’s “Dementia Stricken Mother, “who could make already clean things sparkle, and “shine like gospel in a new revelation.” Maybe we should all aspire to the kind of saintly “industrious joy” that loves the world so well “everything can be restored.”
In the series of shorter pieces under “Grudge” Nester demonstrates the power of inertia,
The stubborn resistance to change that keeps broken things broken. In stories about his father he explores the result of remaining mired in old and ungenerous assumptions. Stuck, his father cannot change, and the generations remain strangers unable to meet, share or collaborate on a future. The result is “nothing coming of nothing” unhealed, persistent isolation.
How can we escape this separation, plumb the indescribable space between the self and the world? That challenge comes from a cultural habit, the “Science Method.” To the Cherokee shaman that space doesn’t exist, he is never alone, but continuous with the natural world. For Western man, the existentialist, that space is an unbridgeable chasm, “our gift, only the gray form of a penetrating ignorance we were proud of.” Habit and theory are prisons, “not the key, but the lock.” Freedom is threatened by the familiar, though that familiar may be terrible, it is what we’re used to, what imagination chokes on.
As we live always hungry, always “at the starving end of something” we may only have a choice of addictions, where “Everything that lives is addicted to something.” The best we can do may be to choose our addiction purposefully, eyes wide open. Love something, “bite hard on the hook of something you love that loves you back and doesn’t lie.” We are like the praying mantis who chewed a frame for his head from a leaf, always seeing the world as frame for our image. Can we do more than preen, are we the universe reflecting on itself while “munching our green hopes”?
Perhaps our place is not in death and distance, but in love, which “keeps no calendar.”
Love can be our mirror, and the stories we share, even reluctantly, the fires to warm us. Stories are powerful acts, and shouldn’t be told “with your back turned.” A good novel carries us off and returns the world to us new, remade, and reimagined. In “Reckoning” singing birds teach us to reckon as they do, to see ourselves as “of little consequence beside important song, as by a great river.” Ultimately what we have and what persists is there always outside the window, “the exquisite world,” a wonder we are also part of, that might even “for the smallest instant” have depended on us being there, seeing, reflecting, loving and creating. There lies true restoration.
You can get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Red-Truck-Bear-Richard-Nester/dp/1950462749/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&qid=1635534873&qsid=140-5063485-5152802&refinements=p_27%3ARichard+Nester&s=books&sr=1-3&sres=B096TN7H7W%2C1909916315%2C1950462749%2C1949229319%2C1909916110%2C0615951864%2C0692743626%2CB0006QVHPK%2CB001GTABCQ%2C1718192878&text=Richard+Nester
Mary McCarthy is a writer and artist whose work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Third Wednesday, Verse Virtual, Earth’s Daughters and The Ekphrastic Review.