book review

Logos by Gil Fagiani

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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In the 161 page soft cover poetry book, Logos by Gil Fagiani, the reader learns from Fagiani himself in an author’s note that his poetry is of the people.
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                          This poetry of the people, this song of the streets, has been
                           the most influential element in my literary pursuits, and why
                           my first impulse has been to write about the world with addiction
                           and treatment by means of poetry rather than prose.
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This book fulfills Fagiani’s literary pursuit..  For example, his poem Believer on page 15 is only one stanza but powerful in both image and storyline.
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                          On a muggy
                          fly-filled day
                          inside a courtyard
                          reeking of diapers,
                          mice-filled glue traps,
                          take-out tins of rice and beans,
                          he stands behind a long line
                          of sick junkies
                          until it’s his turn
                          to push his last ten-dollar bill
                          through a hole in the wall,
                          convinced
                          a dynamite sack of dope
                          is going to be pushed back.
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The title suggests faith but takes an ironic tact on the “belief” of an addict with a questionable outcome for the deliverance of a product that would allegedly lift his spirits. The language used is clear and common in a setting that speaks of squalor and desperation.

Fagiani divides the tome into sections Shooting Dope with Trotsky, White Uncle Tom, Siding with the Enemy, and A Single Spark.  These titles also represent Fagiani’s approach to heal the reader with street song and poetry. Jose’ B. Gonzales, Ph.D., editor of Latinostories.com, says: This collection is full of lyrical grit. In the first section, Shooting Dope with Trotsky, Fagiani uses images in the poems talking about the black section of town, anti-poverty volunteerism in Harlem and skin popping until he almost ODs. In the section, White Uncle Tom, Fagiani tells the stories of an interview in the South Bronx, the feds busting Mikie for a pound of pure in his trunk, and teaming up with a girlfriend to scam guys.  The gritty storylines represent imperfect lives in imperfect and desperate situations.

In Siding with the Enemy, Fagiani shows a party group made up of Black, White,  and Puerto Rican men walking arm in am down a street in an Italian neighborhood singing at the top of their lungs until the narrator realizes they could get hurt and they need to leave the neighborhood when bottles start flying and exploding. A Single Spark shows situations in the subway, in the bedroom and behind the Paradise Theater with the play on words successfully executed.  The subjects, the storylines and the images use their figurative eyes to look directly into the face of reality.

The book is a  pleasurable read especially if you like looking at images that aren’t afraid to roll in the dirt and stand up to shake it off.

Gil Fagiani has many poetry collections to his credit including A Blanquito in El Barrio, Chianti in Connecticut, and Stone Walls.  He was a social worker and worked in a Psychiatric hospital and a drug rehab program in downtown Brooklyn.

The book is available from www.guernicaeditions.com

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

 

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Sideways Blues – Irish Mountain & Beyond by Carl Kaucher

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By g emil reuter

Carl Kaucher is not a poet who walks. Kaucher is a wanderer. Often from the foot of Irish Mountain in Temple, Pennsylvania to the sometimes familiar, often forgotten urban landscapes of southeastern Pennsylvania. From city to dusty borough, to boroughs on the rebound. Kaucher wanders the main streets, back streets and alleyways, ever the observer, ever the recorder.

This collection of 32 poems bring the reader into the geography and characters who inhabit these places, many on the margins of life. A realist, Kaucher writes in the second stanza of the first poem:

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My altar is alternative form
meditated since before I was born.
Sometimes I dream of silence
and pray for it’s return
Life is far simpler than I know
when I let go of my self.
Drifting on an empty street
I am hoping to be filled with lost.
In giving away, I am not taking.
In living my way, I am not faking.
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He writes of the intercity bus station, of the dirty socks of damnation, of life along the railroad tracks, of street preachers and when he wanders into a neighborhood where his appearance is different than those who occupy the corner, they look upon each other suspiciously in the mirror of distrust.
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Kaucher tells of his love of nature while on a park bench in the opening stanza of 16:
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Far side of nowhere
under cool shade of pin oak
singing the park bench blues
to the cello sounds
of cicada whorls
that mesmerize me deep
to the sonic rhythm
sonata of August.
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This well-crafted collection pulsates with the rhythm of the hard side of life as in the 2nd and 3rd stanza of 4:
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Hard stepping down streets
rhythmic to a four count beat.
Passing through pools of dark
Carrion shadow- into my self
into meditation – emptiness.
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Thoughts come to pass as memory
Then fall into the gutter
to someday be washed away
down sewers into streams
and into the seas of dream.
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Distance Traveled by Michael Chin

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By Charles Rammelkamp

Michael Chin’s Distance Traveled is a touching series of vignettes – flash pieces, meditations – that ultimately address, in an understated way, a first-love break-up between a man and a woman, and in measuring the distance that that relationship travels, the stories also shine a light on the fantasies and obsessions that can dominate us all our lives, out of which we sometimes (often) grow – or travel beyond.

Most of the nineteen stories that make up Distance Traveled involve the narrator and his childhood buddy Vinnie, growing up in a town in upstate New York (Chin grew up in Utica), obsessively following NBA teams in the context of their turbulent junior high school lives. But the first two (“History” and “I Believed in Magic”) and the last two (“Sea Level” and “Hall of Fame”) that frame the collection are told when the narrator is well into his thirties.  While also couching larger issues in terms of basketball, they address the heartbreak and disillusionment that inevitably come with adulthood. The chunk of fifteen stories in between set us up for all the real-life joy and misery that the game of basketball involves for the fans who follow the teams and the players, who learn to refer to teams in terms of “we” and “our” and “us.”

For certain basketball fans, too, the period of Chin’s fandom as a teenager evokes real nostalgia for the game, its drama and melodrama, as it was played in the last decade of the twentieth century, with “Magic” and “Larry” and “Michael” and “Shaq” and “Kobe” and all the others we first-named as if we knew them. There are stories about Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy, Muggsy Bogues and Latrell Sprewell, all with grave moral applications to the lives of teenage boys. And George Mikan? Does that name ring a bell?

Indeed, Chin’s collection provides a fresh take on the old saw that sports is a metaphor for life.  As the narrator notes in “The New York Knicks, 1994,” in which the beloved home team (“the Knicks – the team based Downstate, but the jersey said New York, no City, so we could still claim them.”) loses the championship in the seventh game of the finals to the Houston Rockets: “And I discovered that magical thing about the game. That win or lose it went on.  No permanent victories or defeats, just the ones you let stick to you, the ones that rolled off.”

But while this collection may ultimately be about the narrator and Claudia, the girl who leaves him for another guy, it’s the narrator and his buddy Vinnie as young teens who really touch the reader’s heart.  The narrator and Vinnie are obsessed with basketball. It’s the ultimate basis of their friendship; it’s what they bond over, and not just the hero-worship. They admire the acrobatics, the strategy, the work ethic. They learn about the point spread from the narrator’s father and apply the principle to their nascent love lives. They bond over the triangle offense, brainchild of Phil Jackson. As Knick fans, they loathe Reggie Miller, the Indiana Pacers’ three-point artist (“Everybody Hates Reggie Miller”). And yet, reflecting on Miller’s childhood when he wore leg braces because his hips were out of place, and all the obstacles the future star would have to overcome, the narrator observes that it’s easier to be a victim – a role Miller did not adopt – than to be a villain. (In an act of will, the narrator resists “adding fucking before or between Reggie and Miller.”)  The villain, after all, is a celebrity, part of the sports pantheon of gods. Think Loki. Think Beelzebub.

Possibly the most amusing and endearing instance of the boys’ innocence comes in the story, “A Piece of the Man,” which focuses on Dennis Rodman. You remember Dennis, the original American diplomat to visit Kim Jong Un, years before Donald Trump. “Tattoos and neon hair. Number ninety-one because those were the first two digits people dial in case of emergency.” The boys are trading sports cards. The narrator offers Vinnie a Glen Rice rookie card and a Fleer Scottie Pippen for Vinnie’s Rodman card. “I already knew he’d say no.”  While they dicker over the cards, the narrator tells Vinnie that Rodman had dated Madonna. “You think he kissed her?” Vinnie asks innocently. The narrator tells him the truth about Dennis Rodman and Madonna. “Vinnie was at that fulcrum age, both naïve and instinctually inclined to want to put his dick in anything that moved.” It’s almost as if the narrator has had to tell Vinnie there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.

A natural storyteller, Chin’s narrative voice is wise and confidential, unafraid to acknowledge vulnerabilities and weaknesses. He sucks you in with his casual references to the dysfunctional family life that basketball seemingly saves him from.  But there’s not a trace of self-pity in Distances Traveled. Just as Reggie Miller had to fight for everything he had, the narrator confides, “I can relate. We all think we can, right? It’s easy to play the victim.” Chin, too, refuses to play the victim. Instead, he simply moves on – “that magical thing about the game.” Win or lose, life just goes on.

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You can find the book here:

https://bentwindow.com/books/distancetraveled/

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

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In the Shadow of King Saul by Jerome Charyn

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By g emil reutter

Charyn opens this collection of essays, written 1978 through 2005, with an introduction that flows like a fast moving stream. He writes about the sadness that consumes Saul, a king without a song. David is a singer of songs and admired by many much as Charyn’s father was a silent man without a song and Charyn himself a singer of words. He tells us at the end of In the Shadow of King Saul:

“If David is history’s darling, then we, all the modern fools—liars, jugglers, wizards without song—still have Saul.”

In Ellis: An Autobiography, Charyn writes of the hard knock neighborhood he grew up in, of the gangs and peacemakers of the scars left upon families that were processed through Ellis Island into America. He visits Ellis on a tour and tells us:

“She took us step by step through an immigrant’s day, and for me it was like going through the Stations of the cross, rituals of suffering every five or ten feet.”

Charyn writes of the discrimination of not only Jews but of other groups gaining entry:

“The Irish came here and discovered another ruling class: politicians, bankers and grocers. The natives clamored to send them back to Ireland, organizing into secret societies like the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner and other Know-Nothings, who were a kind of northern Klan.”

He tells us of the arrival of Italians and Jews from Eastern Europe after 1880. “..they were no more dirty than the Irish had been. Other nativists opposed this “eastern horde.”

I find this essay timely for today’s world for many of the descendants of those who entered Ellis Island and suffered great discrimination are now in the role of the natives who opposed their forefathers entry into this country and now oppose others coming to America.

Charyn writes two essays on the writer Isaac Babel who wrote in Stalinist Soviet Union and had a love for all things French. Charyn explores Babel, his public and private lives, the great conflicts and Babel’s own influence on Charyn’s writing.

In Haunch Paunch and Jowl he writes of those who were for a time forgotten. Herman Melville, Scott Joplin and Henry Roth all who were discovered later and now have influenced generations of writers and musicians. He tells us of the author of Haunch Paunch and Jowl, Samuel Ornitz and how the novel was condemned by critics:

“…published in 1923 as “An Anonymous Autobiography” has more to tell about the relationship between Jews, politics, and crime than any other work of fiction or nonfiction. The novel reads like a sociological song.”

He enlightens us to the past and our current events once again writing:

“The nativists had finally won. The National Origins Act of 1924 put an absolute quota on the number of Italians, Slavs, and Jews that could enter the United States…stopped the flow of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe.”

In the ten essays in this collection Charyn writes of literary figures, Saul Bellow, Lionel Trilling, and Anzia Yezierska. He writes of the great baseball player, Josh Gibson, recounts his visits to the movies and his fascination with Rita Hayworth and Errol Flynn and even the comics and the character Krazy Kat. He is a writer of great passion, lyric and empathy. Charyn tells of the fleeting fame that comes from pop culture and the literary world. Of the pain of immigration and its lasting effects on families, of bigotry and the battle of all to become one with America. My own father once told me you have to know where you come from. It was advice I have always carried with me. A son of the Bronx he grew up during the great depression and he would have enjoyed these essays that flow from the page with realism and from an author who knows the truth.

 

You can find the book here: https://blpress.org/books/shadow-king-saul/

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella published by New York Quarterly Books is a good end of summer read for lovers of poetry. The broad range of themes presented in everyday language gives a sense of deep understanding of relationships between nature, humans and the overall the culture we live in.
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An example of nature and how one reacts is the last poem of this soft cover volume, My Rain, which creates an ending to the lushness of the warmer months and how one can interpret something as common as rain in an individual way.
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My Rain
                                          does not whip the ground
                                          from under me.
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                                          Falls straight
                                                    As a sheet.
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                                          Ends at dawn
                                             in a mist that lingers
                                             over blades of grass.
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I like the technique of using the title in a dual function of being the title as well as the first line of the poem.  Although the poem has a lyrical sense to it, its directness and clarity expands the image of how perspective on even drops of rain can change a person. The uneven lines contribute to the visualization of the unevenness of rain drops.
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This direct and clear approach is all through the book when the narrator remembers her relationship with her father on page 27, Father, fix it, please. The poem opens with The dark befriends me here in the basement.  Lisella has given the reader a place that is usually unfriendly and often scary and makes it into the safe and wonderful memory of her father’s workshop where anything can be repaired.
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The relationship to our culture is shown on page 57 when she reveals some issues with being short in her poem Lethal.   Lisella’s last line draws the poem to a close on the subject of being short: lethal, small and ready to spring.  The poem gives images of what it means to be small but gives power to the petite of the world using the common denominator of ballet and turning that suggestion and perhaps negative of being diminutive into power.
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In another cultural reference, she speaks of war in her poem Just Boys on page 79 by showing three tombstones of boys who fought the other boys.  The opening line is so strong, The sun is about to slip below the grass, that one can feel a graveyard shiver.  She speaks of taking pictures as if they could record silence. In the space she has led the reader to, we stand in a dead and quiet war zone of the past but in the present.
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The volume is divided into four parts headed by Roman numerals.  The 100 page tome covers a wide range of themes drawn from everyday life and presented in both long and short poems.  Although the poems are direct and clear, many of them I wanted to read again and again because of the way they made me feel.
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Maria Lisella is the Poet Laureate of Queens for 2015 to 2018. Her work has appeared in Amore on Hope Street, Two Naked Feet and many literary journals including Fox Chase Review and New Verse News.  She holds an MA in specialized Journalism from NYU-Polytechnic University. She is also a travel writer and editor and has had her work recognized in South Africa, Italy and France.
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The book is available from www.nyq.org
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.
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A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas

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By Charles Rammelkamp

“In those years I still believed in magic,” the schoolgirl narrator of the story “Bulldog” tells us after she has been informed by the boys in the schoolyard “no girls allowed” when she tries to participate in a game of handball. That night she dreams about her transformative powers. The stories in Nicole Rivas’ collection, A Bright and Pleading Dagger, winner of the 2018 Rose Metal Press flash fiction chapbook contest, brim with magic as young women cope with their powerlessness in the face of the abracadabra of love and ambition. So often, the magic lies in the contradictory pull of toughness and tenderness, as if the collision of the opposites creates a spell all its own. Emblematic of these opposing impulses is the image that concludes the story, “The Butcher,” in which the girl protagonist takes on her father’s butcher job. She routinely brings scraps of meat to the feral cats in her neighborhood. “…the cats slip and turn around her calves like warm and eager lovers, ready to strip the butcher of everything she has to offer them.” There is so much violence implicit in this image, yet so much affection.

Or again, take the conclusion of the story, “The Comedienne” (note that Rivas uses the obsolete term to identify a female comic), a story in which a young woman is effectively ostracized from a party after she makes a crude joke; she accidentally breaks her mimosa glass on the handrail going out, getting shards of glass stuck in her palm. Rivas writes about the pieces of glass that Sam, the protagonist, has removed from her hand, “If she arranged them one way, they looked like a dagger. If she arranged them another way, they looked like a halo.” Murderer or angel, sinner or saint?

And yet another example of this DNA-coiling of the yin and the yang, comes at the end of the story, “The Woman on the Bus,” when the narrator observes, “Though you know it’s unwise, you will continue to love and hate him until you can no longer tell the difference between the two.” In this story, the protagonist, “you,” is a young woman on a date with a man who clearly annoys her. Yet when he gets food caught in his throat and she has to perform the Heimlich maneuver to save his life, she speaks to him “in the soothing voice of a mother.” The woman is taken by surprise to hear herself, “the way it leaps out of your throat like a warm blanket.”

In all twelve of the stories that make up A Bright and Pleading Dagger these same contradictions are at play (or war), and the result is magic. “Gretel’s Escape,” which plays on the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, may be the most magical of all. In this version of the story, the brother and sister are – surprise! – lost in a deep dark forest and they come upon a ruin. Sound familiar? Only, Gretel discovers a charred hardback (it’s apparently Grimm’s Fairy Tales) in which she reads about her brother and her being duped by a witch in a candy house. The witch tries to eat them, they get away, a lesson is learned, blah blah blah. Gretel’s reaction? “She was tired of being simultaneously lost and bound to fate.”  She tries to ditch her brother, but she’s ultimately resigned to her fate. The story ends: “Gretel exhaled sadly, knowing Hansel would find her again, once upon a time.”  Once upon a time. The love and the resentment are both so nakedly apparent.

Indeed, the fairy tale, with its implicit magic and its didactic moral message is the perfect genre by which to understand Rivas’ flash fictions, except that she turns it on its head: there is no moral; there is no bright distinction between “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad.” There is savage and there is compassionate, there is violent and there is kind, but they are never separate, only barely distinguishable.

These are all stories about girls navigating through some bizarre #Metoo world, at once victims and agents of their own fate. The teenage girls in the title story are picked up by some older hillbillies in a truck near Savannah. We don’t know what happens to one of the girls, Jada, who wanders off with one of the men when they park in a field miles from town, except that she’s apparently uninjured, but the unnamed narrator is sitting in the truck with her guy who masturbates while talking to her about scifi thrillers. Gross. Jada meanwhile quits her job and the narrator never sees her again. In the story, “Death of an Ortolan,” the young narrator is drawn into a relationship with Penny, her gynecologist, a woman more than twice her age.  How can this not be exploitative?  But the narrator seems to know what she’s doing.

The magic and the just plain weird aspects of these stories (In “The Staring Contest” a young woman speed dates – and falls in love with – “the oldest man in the world,” who dies sitting across from her) add up to a dark humor that takes the edge off the savage undercurrents, but the sheer menace just around the corner makes these stories extremely potent.  This is a collection you will read straight through.

You can find the book here:

https://rosemetalpress.com/books/a-bright-and-pleading-dagger/

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.

Gathering View by Jack C. Buck

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By Stephen Page

A couple of years ago I traveled with my wife to my home state Michigan, north of the city of Detroit. We were to stay there during the last week of March and the first week of April. The last few times I went to Michigan it was either in June, August, or October. And even though I grew up in Michigan, I had not been to Michigan in March or April in quite some time. I packed a couple of cotton sweaters and a rad waxed-cotton motorcycle-style jacket with a picture of Steve McQueen imprinted on the lining. It had no snap-in wool lining and I thought that I would not need it.  After all, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Right? As the plane carrying me and my wife was descending for a landing in Detroit Metropolitan Airport, we looked out the fuselage window and saw what looked like at least three inches of snow on the ground. The pilot came on the air and announced that the wind chill was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I looked at my wife.

The shuttle bus drove us to a car rental and we chose to pay for a mid-size car.  The cashier told us we would get a Ventura.  We stood outside shivering, clenching our teeth, hugging each other while we waited for the valet to arrive with the car.  The valet drove up in front of us in a brand new Charger. He said he took one look at my cool jacket, and new I would need a sporty ride. I thanked him and gave him tip.  We leaped in the vehicle, drove to the first shopping mall we saw alongside I-94, ran inside, and bought wool sweaters, down jackets, Detroit Lions beanies, and gloves.  Sorry McQueen, you would have looked very cool in that new Charger.

Driving to my sister’s house, I remembered that when I was a kid I walked one mile every day to school and one mile back. Sometimes during January or February, no matter how many layers of clothing I wore, the cold bit all the way down to the marrow of the bones.  The cheeks on my face felt like they had been scorched with ice.  And then the cold would grip my lungs and heart and I thought I was going into cardiac arrest.

Reading Jack C. Buck’s “Gathering View” harked back those times.  I had again forgotten that winter in Michigan can last well into May.  Mr. Buck has kindly reminded me. I wish I had read this book before that expedition with my wife.  Winter in Michigan is either chilly, cold, freezing, polar, bone-chilling, face-peeling, or heart-stopping. There is no warm, cuddly, soft-fleeced March lamb. Mr. Buck encapsulates this face-blistering phenomenon in his vivid collection of short poems. In his book, warmth comes only in human contact, literally and lovingly. His succinct poems paint the grandeur of Michigan in all its beauty—rivers, lakes, forests, flora and fauna.  He also alludes to the Michiganders penchant for football.  The book is divided into three sections: one is the late autumn and first few months of winter (including references to football); two, the long bitter middle of winter; and three, the ending of winter and the beginning of spring (which can still be quite nippy).  In this book, Buck has produced empathetic poems about loneliness, solitude, and those ever-saving Persophonic graces, acts of humanity.

You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Gathering-View-Jack-Buck/dp/0998890235/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533473293&sr=1-9

Stephen Page is the Author of The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA from Bennington College. He also attended Broward College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, reading, travel, family, and friends.