smokes like your kin at the diner in the gorge, hunched over ham and potatoes, hidden like shadows on back roads, Mohawk comes.A Plum Tree is filled with the appearance and disappearance of mist, comfort foods, bridges and canals, the fall and winter months, cities (Cincinnati, Chicago, Manhattan)—but it is also visited by an intangible ghostliness and poems that defy a simple materialism, poems like “Walking Through the Dream of a Stranger” and “Your Room,” “The Kings of the Valley” and “The Girl and the Hill.” These poems walk through reality and back out again—on the other side of the diner is a dreamy world with unfolding potential, dimensions. Part of the excitement of Bowman’s collection is the sheer homeyness of the poetry’s more concrete aspects paired with lines investigating spiritual realities, as in the poem “December in Middle America,” where the narrator explains
Just before ChristmasThat the soul’s “own emptiness” can be known “perfectly” in December, in Middle America! Such is the capacity of Bowman’s poetry. Neither do you feel, as the poem’s reader, that the hot rolls and coffee are a compensation for the shore, but rather an extension of that shore—the roll called not only up yonder, but here. As in the poem “Monkey Bars” that concludes: “I’m here. / You can tell by / the breadcrumbs on the cutting board,” the speaker’s being is confirmed by attention paid to “the things of the world” (to quote Augustine and Richard Wilbur).
in blue and red
there’s a moment
when my soul knows perfectly
its own emptiness.
That the last shall be the first
and the first, last is no matter:
I smell hot rolls and coffee,
and do not long for the shore.
…kicks a garbage can
in an empty street
but it’s plastic and the sound
He vomits hot dogs
into a storm drain;
he rips a poster
off a telephone pole and wipes his face,
caring nothing for advertisement.
By the rich recognition of a pitiful situation, and the real weight of the descriptions—the hollowness of the garbage can, the last meal of hotdogs—Bowman earns the heavier lyric of the poem “Night Walking, Seattle” that opens with the speaker’s observation “Church bells / drunk with grace / cut the spring moon.” There is both the everyday drunk and the spiritual drunk in A Plum Tree, the hot rolls and coffee beside the recognition of “the shore.” However grounded in Tuesday pot roasts and baseball the poems at moments may be, they are equally involved with mystical presence, from grace, to ghosts, to the Mohawk. And such an awareness moves the poems in A Plum Tree away from artificial categorizations and into a poetics that can admit “This place is a longing” (from “Late September, Rochester”), the poems and poet open to relationship with physical space as well as with something else entirely. A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country. By Daniel Bowman, Jr. VAC Press, 2012
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