Jacob Scheier's second book of poetry, Letter From Brooklyn, is flat out brilliant.
These poems read like missives from a wise old sage with a healthy sense of humour and a good library, a poet who might be a character in a book by Kurt Vonnegut or Tom Robbins, who in fact turns out to be young and in the know, in the now.
The World-Changing Business
"When I asked her if she feels she sacrificed her life to the Communist
Party...(s)he says: "Sacrificed my life! Of course not. Hon, we were
in the world-changing business. You can't get much better than that."
-Vivian Gornick (Interviewing Maggie McConnel),
The Romance of American Communism
The world-changing business
was the family business. My father
took me to the storefront at the edge of history,
saying one day all this will be yours.
But our store was the world and it wasn't
supposed to belong to anyone
or it was supposed to belong to all of us.
I didn't understand it either.
For the world already was that way
when I was a child. The way of owning nothing.
I thought the business was to make us all
children one day. Yet childhood
was disappointing. The first time
my father said we were going to a demo
I expected to see wrecking balls
spoon brick and stone. But people just stood,
or walked, or spoke, sometimes of wrecking things—
though no one ever did. My father often spoke
about the world that could be.
Should be. Would be.
I was to inherit this business
of not yet and now and always.
We lived in the future I would build one day,
though I wanted more to be a garbage man.
My father would have preferred that
to what I am doing right now.
Scheier's poetry is a narrative poetry lovers' dream and right up my aisle. Even better, Scheier is one of those writers you just know could tell you the story of the phonebook with humour, guile and insight. These poems aren't flashy but they are rock solid, there are no fireworks but instead a furnace, a foundry, a foundation so solid you could build on top of these poems.
Biking Down a Country Road
In South-Western Manitoba.
The bales are fat as boulders.
At your back, the hill of silos and the feed factory—
red as the sun in The Grapes of Wrath, the book
you stayed up half the night reading
that made you understand something
about your father. Life settles like dust
inside some men. And the train tracks you passed,
three and a half miles back, must not depart
much from the ones his brother lay upon
decades before, as though he were
a coin, and the bridge you passed
an hour ago isn't that different from the one
his niece leaped from last week, drifting
like something stirred from a field.
And the sky above the prairie is pink
as the pills your mother popped,
making her belly a salmon-filled river.
Before you the dry land is still a frozen river.
You hear your father's voice
on the phone, last night, telling you
what happened to your cousin. Hear
his breath push the dust
when she says he wants things to be
different while there is still time,
as though he has found a track
to lay your life upon while you wait
for the train to change its shapes.
As he speaks you fear that he might breathe
his dust into you. Or that he already has.
The flies rise from the roadside marshes
in the fading yellow of the day, and pelt
your helmet like sheets of rain.
You are far enough down this road
to no longer see the lights of town.
It is so flat you see the precise point
where you see no further. You stop and stare
into the limits of your sight, glad to be alone.
If someone else were here, they might ask
what you're looking. And what
could you say? You'd say
"nothing" and look away,
as you look away now
at the nothing all around
and crowding in.
When a poet is as confident and assured as Scheier is in these pages there is a flow and naturalness to it all. As conversational as it may appear to be there is delicate weaving taking place, these poems are like perfect little movies of our lives.
Elegy For Teenage Love
How did we not know it would be so quick
and irrevocable. Our love
of broken snow globes. Of spilled
water and plastic flakes. Of curved glass
jagged in your hands. Of light
held to your wrist like you were
holding your breath. Our breath. We held
the certainty that is the provenance of the young
who know grief a little earlier than they should.
We were hardened alchemists, transformed wise
from hurt. We knew our love was
everything. We hid inside its immense pocket
and it was hard to tell if it might be larger
than our lives or if we just grew very small
inside it. We could not have stayed together like that
and lived. But we compromised, being together
till we ruined ourselves, just a little,
just enough, to extinguish what permitted us
to love that way. We didn't know
we were kind. We knew
we weren't beautiful but we were young
and beautiful for that.
I am utterly sold and smitten with Jacob Scheier's Letter From Brooklyn, it may be the best book of poetry I read this year.
by how her voice carries
over water. His ears perk
and his head rises.
She is close now,
having paddled deep
into the bulrushes
to find him. He stares,
then lowers his head
to let her know
if she gets any closer
he will charge.
When I open a book of poems I am hoping for any number of joys to be present, Scheier runs the gamut. Letter From Brooklyn is intelligent, entertaining and very humane poetry of the highest order. Full stop.
Jacob Scheier reading at Livewords, June 25
Excerpts from Letter From Brooklyn by Jacob Scheier © 2013 by ECW Press. Used with permission from the publisher.