Monday, January 27, 2014

She Hands Me The Razor - Richard Krawiec

Today's book of poetry:  She Hands Me The Razor.  Richard Krawiec.  Press 53.  Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  USA.  2011

Come on.  

The title of this book grabbed you like it did me.  Just like a stranger grabbing you by your collar — the result is instant attention.  In She Hands Me The Razor Richard Krawiec grabs our full attention.

She Hands Me The Razor

when I ask
she hands me the razor
trust or faith I don't know
where to begin  to stroke
upward    downward
I press the three whip-thin
blades against her skin
how much pressure
does she need     do I want
it is always a matter of finding
another's  boundaries
one's own limits
I pull slowly
across the arched muscle of her calf
the stretched tightness of her thigh
a few wisps of black hair escape
I press harder  feel that catch
which halts my breath in mid exhaust
no rose blooms  so I return
to the world of breathing
slower now  I scrape off the lather
with mincing strokes    reveal
each dimple  freckle    curve
consider the flesh
like Michelangelo
where to daub  stroke  edge
how to reveal    the many
smooth faces of God


This is an almost perfect poem.  The tension is palpable, so is the tenderness, grace and finally, beauty.  All in a short narrative.

Krawiec has published two novels, a book of stories, four plays and a poetry chapbook.  She Hands Me The Razor is a formidable first collection.

Fred Chappell, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina, author of Shadow Box: Poems described She Hands Me The Razor as "powerful experiences powerfully rendered with an art that seems almost casual."  And he is right, there is a casualness to the language, the ease with which Krawiec bends us to his will, to his way of seeing.  

But there is nothing casual about the hard edge of the reality Krawiec explores in many of these poems. The blinding tragedy of a death in a family is brought full circle in these poems.  Very intimate and harrowing and all the more so because they speak in a language we all know, recognize.  Powerful stuff indeed.

Things To Do When You Lose A Child

smell the mold
remember his downy face
cry on the sidewalk
refuse to move

sit by the phone
unplug the phone
chug wine
stare out the window

call in sick
write a poem
throw it away
spit in the barrel

get stoned
walk on water
slice off foreskins
pluck out an eye


"Seems almost casual".  There's the rub.  There are few things harder than appearing natural at something that is difficult, writing a poem that is natural sounding but still full of poetic tension, suspense.

Richard Krawiec comes out of the gate swinging again and again - quick poems about life, loss, love, longing - all that contemporary human condition manifesto stuff.  But Krawiec is never after the gloss, these poems are an honest look at the flaws we abound in despite our best efforts.

The Waiting Room

not double hospital gowns
rumpled large as samurai robes
nor forced laughter  stretched smile
nods of reassurance

can hide how diminished she seems
shrunken like an aged child
by fear of the scalpel
and anesthesia's ability
to render thoughts
down to essence of smoke

every surgery threatens
a sunken barricade of stitches
the open seam in a cemetery

in the cafeteria's atrium
green-shaded lights reflect
on the inner glass
dew spackles
the solarium windows
a grass-sparse courtyard
studded with trees
and benches  waits
in the morning's gruel
of sunlight

fear removes all makeup
glares to light loose skin
lines and moles
wrinkled hands
hanging pouches
witness reflect

our train is not chugging
out on a shiny track
but lurching on rusty rails
back to the station
we tumbled into each other
outside the club car
while searching for coffee
something to force us

the track is loose
with missing spikes
the tunnel much closer
than we want to believe

I pull you close
and we do the one thing not allowed
the only thing left to us
we dance in the waiting room
to songs of our making


Krawiec is head on heart-breaking with some of these very human poems about death and dying.  She Hands Me The Razor is an ode to intimacy.  Messy, painful and redemptive human intimacy.

And it is a strong helping.

Video:  Richard Krawiec reads Joseph Bathanti.

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