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North Carolina Miscellany

ILLUSTRATON BY FELICIA VAN BORK

many of the other poems together. The first of the “Cloud” poems consider questions like “why don’t we appreciate each moment?” and “what is happiness?” By the final “Cloud” poem, the reader is presented with the meditative lines: “To be pure again, / You must descend from the heavens / To crawl through soil and rock / Toward the river beneath us all.” The “Cloud” poems mimic the appearance of their namesake; they float on the page, disregarding traditional forms of indentation and line justification. Much like Arnold’s “Cloud” poems, Parker’s “Three Possibilities” distills great matters down to simpler terms. Again, we see a body of water; this time it’s a river, which becomes the River of Time, the poem’s central setting. The images of seeds, cherries, and a young boy fishing weave through the poem to take us to the banks of the river, realizing a desire to be good, to be whole, to be made of love but ultimately Neither to be lost between possibilities, nor to be swept along in the River of Time, where I am, what I have been.

The speaker’s delight is found not so much in form but in this searching, the chance to be. Again, both poets bring the reader to the natural world and emphasize the need for humanity’s connection to nature. Perhaps the most beautiful poems in both collections – and the ones that very well may stick with a reader long after the first reading – are the poems that describe moments of ordinary life with ethereal language, lifting the words off the page. Parker’s “Reading Antony and Cleopatra at the Airport Again” is one such gift, describing a bored kiosk attendant reading a worn copy of Shakespeare’s play. The speaker allows his imagination to take flight, creating a love story for the teenage girl who is selling trinkets at the airport. The girl and the speaker artfully transcend the space of the airport: “how theatrical the curve of the earth, / the arms of the beloved, the lighted sky / minus the moon. The moon would, / of course, finish the scene, signify.” We see the power of literature, of art, and of the imagination in the lines of this poem. Arnold’s “Appetite for Destruction” describes two friends skipping school in a Caprice to smoke pot and listen to the Guns N’ Roses album. Like Parker’s “Airport” poem, Arnold’s speaker is transformed, and we know the absolute thrill of this rite of teen life because of lines like “Whatever Bunsen burner alchemical miracle we miss / I’d gladly exchange today / for those guitars vibrating through me.”

ABOVE A 2016 illustration of Alan Michael Parker, created by his partner

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Both poets further explore levels of human intimacy in their play with language: Arnold in the midst of the mundane and Parker in the midst of the ache it is to love someone. Arnold’s poem “The Ignoble Sublime”celebrates the kind of intimacy in which one feels comfortable enough to release a “gastronomic expression.” The speaker acknowledges that we spend much of our lives pretending that we’re not human and that we are perfect; how beautiful to find someone around whom we can be human and our most natural. This prose poem continues: “Today you take a moment to appreciate releasing the spirit trapped inside the body’s coiling labyrinth like a soul rising up after the body expires, like a prayer catapulted over the colossal walls of heaven.” By contrast, Parker’s “A Poem for Sally” expresses a father’s desire to “swallow whole / his youngest daughter” to protect her from herself and from the world; he’ll swallow some moonlight and water to give her peace and light and maybe a horse to ride on the river’s shore. The ache of this poem’s lines speaks clearly to anyone whose heart breaks to see the brokenness of a loved one; indeed, the speaker could almost be any parent who fears for their child in this world. Certainly anyone who encounters these collections will want to return to their lines again and again. These accessible poems speak across so much of the human experience that readers will acknowledge them, thinking “I know this, too,” as they consider their places in the material and spiritual worlds. n

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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