Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To Charlie Coté, RE: "Flying for the Window"

I really admire the stance your book takes, Charlie; how it asserts the known in the face of grief, a.k.a. the unknown. In your son's absence, you've examined other things more closely--crabapples, oak trees, birds--and let them be as they are, rather than investing them with more meaning than they're capable of handling. I learned much more about you than about Charlie, Jr., and that's a major component of the sadness of the book--that there was much about your son that was a mystery to you, too, a fact which the poems communicate with heart-aching precision. All of us are mysteries even to the people who love us and know us best, I think, and especially the young, who often seem to possess some kind of wisdom we've forgotten, even while they're in a state of major flux, the people they'll become waiting in the future. The sheer admiration you have for your son's gifts, so completely absent of jealousy or anger, breathes into the poems a voluminous warmth. Some grief poems rage, threatening to take the house with them; others, like yours, crackle in place, last longer.

True to your title, there is a sense of freedom in the poems, a sense of release and openness:

The world above worlds is a prairie
of clouds and sun glare.
Below, the smoldering hearths
shed smoke like irradiated hair.

I admire how unwilling this poem is (there's more of it, to those of you reading who aren't Charlie) to assert an afterlife. The speaker wants to, but cannot. He can only assert the things he sees, hence why heaven in the lines above sounds like a description from an airplane window. He is mortal, specific, subject to time and space, and by pointing out his mortality, he renders his son's mortality much more tangible. And the poem ends not with a question, but with a simple assertion of fact: "I play his red guitar." These are not philosophical musings, theories, conjectures, polemical argumentations, aesthetic stances, experiments--they are records of a man's experience, and if there is questioning, the questioning itself is part of that record, one person flummoxed/awed/disappointed/saddened by life--something he can't possibly hope to weave into a cogent answer, so he does the next best thing, he copies down the few things he can account for.

In other words, these are poems.

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