Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Saltwater Empire, taffy not included

It took me a long time to read Saltwater Empire, the second book of poetry by Raymond McDaniel. The wasn't due to a lack of trying on my part. In fact, I bought it the week it came out. Since Raymond and I are friends and colleagues, I put the book in his mailbox with a request that he sign it. Eight months later I got my book back, and though eight months is an inexcusable length of time to keep a book someone has asked you to sign, Ray made up for it by not only signing the book, but also providing annotations for the majority of the poems. So I am now the proud owner of The Annotated Saltwater Empire. And now that I've actually had the chance to read the book, I'm the happy owner of said book. Because it's damn good.

Here's one of my favorites. Each line is a shining example of Ray's ear for language and eye for detail (one always informing the other):
Assault to Abjury

Rain commenced, and wind did.

A crippled ship slid ashore.

Our swimmer's limbs went heavy.

The sand had been flattened.

The primary dune, the secondary dune, both leveled.

The maritime forest, extracted.

Every yard of the shore was shocked with jellyfish.

The blue pillow of the man o' war empty in the afterlight.

The threads of the jellyfish, spent.

Disaster weirdly neatened the beach.

We cultivated the debris field.

Castaway trash, our treasure.

Jewel box, spoon ring, sack of rock candy.

A bicycle exoskeleton without wheels, grasshopper green.

Our dead ten speed.

We rested in red mangrove and sheltered in sheets.

Our bruises blushed backwards, our blisters did.

is it true is it true

God help us we tried to stay shattered but we just got better.

We grew adept, we caught the fish as they fled.

We skinned the fish, our knife clicked like an edict.

We were harmed, and then we healed.

(Raymond McDaniel, from Saltwater Empire, 2007 Coffee House Press)

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