A remarkable collection of rural poetry written by a talented new author.
By Jesse Nathan ‧ RELEASE DATE: N/A
Nathan’s debut collection of poems is a tribute to farm life, following a boy’s upbringing in rural Kansas. The title object is the sharp structure at the tip of a baby bird’s beak that helps it to hatch, symbolizing the poet’s own journey to adulthood. The book opens with a cat hiding in the summer heat and continues with “How We Played,” a recollection of boyhood fun across four seasons. Home is a place of wheat fields and well water, where little boys get stuck in the foot with locust tree spikes. The poet’s mother, a teacher and farmer, is an avid gardener who teaches her son to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. The speaker recalls annually setting up a tent to sell produce, taking the role of cashier. In “Scouts,” he describes an act of hazing against another boy. In “Shock,” the family must deal with the aftermath of a suspected lightning strike to their home during a storm. The poet contemplates the ways silence on the farm can either comfort or torment, depending on one’s mood. The speaker and a female friend, now adults, get their first tattoos: he gets a barn-swallow on the shoulder; she chooses spiral on her ankle. “Love and Ink” explores sexuality. The book concludes with the speaker now relocated, calling his parents and receiving updates on the farm in “This Long Distance,” a poem steeped in bittersweet homesickness.
Nathan’s writing is vivid and alive. His language is full of imagery, from a cat “puddled under the boxwood” to a breeze that is “quick-footed” and asparagus that “topples against her knife.” He conjures stinging nettles that “electrify my shins” and allows readers to meet multiple characters in a mere four lines. In “If You Draw Rightly on a Wound, It Might Righten,” a stunning description of a first tattoo reads: “ink as blue as bruises may be a kind of trust / sealed and believed.” The speaker sagely concludes, “Maybe certain / pain is meditative.” Each poem paints a striking portrait of rural America. In “Between States,” the speaker walks along a creek in springtime, describing the month of April as “terse breezes, wide-awake-skies, vein-blue tulips” and recalls “Summer as wide as this wildered sky” (“Straw Refrain”). Even the gruesome death of a farm boy is made beautiful when rendered by Nathan’s pen: “yanked into a baler, / flew out ribbons.” Though he rhymes frequently, it isn’t in the cloying fashion of a novice poet. And while he provides specific information about his surroundings, from types of flora and fauna to farming practices, the text never reads like an instruction manual—it’s a love letter. The only minor quibbles are the recurring character Justin whose relationship to the author is unclear, and the foreword by Robert Hass, which is so effusive it veers on promotional.
Pub Date: N/A
Page Count: 105
Publisher: Unbound Edition Press
Review Posted Online: June 26, 2023