The poems in Edward Mullany’s If I Falter at the Gallows are refreshing and brisk.
SELF-PORTRAIT AS HIGH SCHOOL SOPHMORE
There are no cars
on the highway today,
but an apple hovers
in the air.
Refreshing! Brisk! Because there is no pretense, when the piece has concluded I discover that I have already stepped inside its landscape. I stare, mesmerized, as the apple hovers. Mullany’s titles feel huge, words written with the large typewriter of literary giants:
THE GREAT REFUSAL
Here is a pebble.
Here is the riverbank on which that pebble resides.
Here is the sky.
Here is a part of the sky.
Here is a part of a part of the sky.
The title frames the experience powerfully. It gets the grand drama out of the way and then the piece begins, beneath the looming shadow of something large and very intelligent. There is self-awareness in the title that becomes interpersonal warmth in the poem’s lines.
Through If I Falter at the Gallows, there’s a sense of religious constraint that seems to stem from the city and from the pressure of being in society, now. These are poems of the mind with plenty of “is,” joking uneasily with the rhythm of the way things are. Sometimes the speaker knows, and sometimes the speaker jokes, because the speaker doesn’t know and sometimes seems to know the joke, and sometimes seems mesmerized by it. These refreshing and brisk poems scoot toward the grandiose by virtue of brevity, and are relieved of the grandiose by arriving at a startling image.
A woman with a gun, and a man
with a gun, and a child with a gun, and a dog with
a gun held between its two
front paws face
The gaze here is at the reader, alerts us with self-consciousness. I relish and perhaps the speaker relishes in the dog as a comforting image that illustrates a familiar part of the human condition that can be known and loved. Drunkenness occurs every now and then in the book, perhaps as a threat to knowledge. The speaker learns how to dress in the clothes of the wise fool.
What is highlighted here as much as any recurring image (dog, solitude, light, and color) is the vacuum pointed to by brevity. This is a vacuum sweeper as much as the vacuum of space, plugged in and emitting its mating call to the philosopher.
STEPHEN LLOYD WEBBER lives in rural northern California. He is the founder and coordinator for Writing Immersion Retreats in Italy, Bali, and the Caribbean. His book Writing from the Inside Out is forthcoming from Divine Arts/MWP.