Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Review: Lay Back the Darkness, Poems by Edward Hirsch


Lay Back the Darkness
Poems by Edward Hirsch
Alfred A. Knopf
2003
73 pages

With the falling back of the clocks this weekend and the impending darkness of winter, it seems fitting today to talk about a book called Lay Back the Darkness, no?

I was first introduced to Edward Hirsch's work earlier this year when I picked up The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems from the library.  I loved it (see my review here) and now I'm eager to sample the rest of his work. 

Lay Back the Darkness is Hirsch's sixth collection of poetry and it is, as the book jacket says, "a descent into the darkness of middle age, narrated with exacting tenderness.  He explores the boundaries of human fallibility both in candid personal poems, such as the title piece - a plea for his father, a victim of Alzheimer's wandering the hallway at night - and in his passionate encounters with classic poetic texts.... there is a luminous forgiveness in his examination of our sorrows." 

Happy-go-lucky, these poems are not.

These are poems about impending death in all its forms - a loved one with Alzheimer's ("Wheeling My Father Through the Alzheimer's Ward," "The Forgetfulness Chair,"), the Holocaust ("Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944"), remembering someone by lighting a Yahrzeit candle ("Yahrzeit Candle"), and the love one carries on the journey between this world and the next ("The Widening Sky") which was one of my favorites in this somber collection.  It sounds morbid, but this is exactly how I'd like to think about how death occurs, just a gradual stepping away.

The Widening Sky

I am so small walking on the beach
at night under the widening sky.
The wet sand quickens beneath my feet
and the waves thunder against the shore.

I am moving away from the boardwalk 
with its colorful streamers of people
and the hotels with their blinking lights
The wind sighs for hundreds of miles. 

I am disappearing so far into the dark
I have vanished from sight.
I am a tiny seashell
that has secretly drifted ashore

and carries the sound of the ocean
surging through its body. 
I am so small now no one can see me.
How can I be filled with such a vast love? 

One of the things I love about our summer vacations is pausing on the crowded Ocean City, New Jersey boardwalk and standing by the rails looking out onto the darkened beach.  There's something powerful and mysterious about the ocean at night.  Its roar seems louder without a cacaphony of people frolicking at its edge.

It's not unusual to bump into someone you know on the boardwalk on a summer's night - a long lost relative or former neighbor, a classmate or childhood friend, an unrequited love.  They're all there amid the throngs of people walking every direction, wearing all kinds of attire.  The boardwalk is a place for childhood pleasures - of amusement rides, of games of chance, of soft ice cream and caramel popcorn and salt water taffy.

And then, suddenly, it all slips away without us even realizing it  - but still the memories linger, sustaining you through the darkness of fall and winter.  

Back bay of Strathmere, NJ
July 2009







copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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