b The cover of Pat Carrington’s Hard Blessings shows an image by Eve Anthony Hanninen: a boy looking out the back window of a car, waving goodbye. The small hand in a shrinking window is an evocative and touching image, brought to life in a book full of windows and backward glances. “…Years/pull away, more of me disappears/in children’s faces in the back/ windows of passing cars…(Nowhere).
These grieving poems may be weighted with loss, but they are redemptive at the core. The voice is attentive and singularly masculine. In the opening poem, “Pattern,” the poet establishes the speaker as both examiner and confessor. The poem’s surreal quality adds to its sensuous surface.
After love at night when I can't sleep, I watch you.
You shine with our sweat. I love
that your skin holds me,
after. Like the ocean
in one of your needlepoints,
I feel sewed into you. And being
across the bed from you is light years away,
my far eyes two insignificant stars
you must have stitched as an afterthought.
They settle on your chest and its slow swell.
What binds sparkle to sea binds them
as well. Like the air
you take in as your breasts rise
and fall, the faint heartbeat that ripples them
ever so slightly, they are part of you.
You have woven them onto
the map of your body like silk.
The language is rich in imagery, but there is a plain-spoken quality that balances the lushness and prevents it from becoming overgrown. Although most of the poems are written in beautifully formed stanzas, blocks are also used to great effect. One of my favorite poems, “Cul De Sacs,” unspools in a way reminiscent of Bob Hickok’s work. The coupling of concrete and abstract elements—“the sound of your spirit crunching like saltines” and “your best friend the vineyard/has already warped the quality of your mercy” ambush the reader and help to create a trenchant complexity.
Throughout Hard Blessings, Carrington builds a framework for the kind of nostalgia where reader and writer meet. We are familiar with one another from the poet’s earlier work, and the experiences the poet writes about. Each book may have its own obsession, but Carrington’s quest for grace continues to be much in evidence. Portrait poems of those who suffer, who mourn, of the poor in spirit include the bereaved speaker in “Flux” and “Crazy Mabel,” an eccentric aunt who teaches the narrator “how to recognize the hard blessings//of the rain.”
In “Lullaby of Atlantic City,” the speaker invites the reader into the narrative. The voice is weary, almost jaded, but grows stronger with each repetition of the word “forget.”
the timepiece of your body. Forget
that every motion is a game
of chance. Forget
that the first thing you did this morning
was drop cash in a drawer
with a bible in it, and especially forget
those two young lovers there with a knife,
casually leaving their hearts
on a tree trunk. As if they have spares
tucked away. As if they'll never be scarce.
In the edgier work, original juxtapositions and the pairing of soft and hard sounds mirror the seesaw of the speaker’s emotional state. As Kim Addonizio says, "It is difficult to walk the middle way; maybe we aren’t meant to, maybe we are meant to be crazed and passionate and obsessed and despairing and comic and lyrical and tragic in our attempts to ‘make our mark’ on the world." "Nowhere" closes Hard Blessings, pulling away with both regret and hope, leaving us with this observation: “I’ve lost a lot, pissed away much more,/ but I haven’t yet forfeited the right/to remember, to look for that face/that might turn my weary body toward home.”
Carrington is also the author of Thirst(Codhill, 2007), and Rise, Fall and Acceptance(MSR Publishing, 2006). This collection is from MSR’s Editor’s Choice Chapbook Series, and I am happy to recommend it.