What a pleasure, this cool late December Saturday morning after a week of awful world news, to take up a book of good strong poems and a cup of strong black tea. The book is Figured Dark by my friend Greg Rappleye of Grand Haven, Michigan, out this fall from University of Arkansas (see link to his website, "Sonnets at 4 a.m." at right). These are poems of winter darkness, but they also deliver poignant humor and hope. Perhaps because New Year's Day and its desperate celebrations loom, this morning I'm especially struck by the ghostly "At the Museum of Whiskey History":
I find my dead, sneaking shots of Old Crow on the line at Kelsey-Hayes-- bootleggers, priests, procession swellers. Here's Uncle Ted saying Cheers to you all after beating a black man senseless behind a blind pig...
and by the poignant "My Mother Thinks She's Peggy Lee" in which a plucky child, trying to entertain his mother, pretends to be Arthur Godfrey and Art Linkletter, over TV trays and SpaghettiOs. He introduces a "scabby little cat" and "our next guest--my baby sister!" as the mother, drunk on Asti and orange juice, falls asleep on the couch.
I'm touched by "After the Divorce," in which the speaker bleakly ends, "Winter soon/a winter that is more and more/my home."
And I'm especially moved by Rappleye's "Lost-Love Ghazals" in which, after plowing respectfully and mournfully through the repeating form, he plaintively rejects the rules: "Why bury my name in some final couplet?/Bereft of name, I will not love you anymore."
"No elegies," he writes in the elegiac "After the Diagnosis": "This winter is just one more darkness/we must learn to walk through."
Rich rewards await the reader in this powerful collection, compelling in its considerations of the folie a deux of suffering and celebration. To quote one of the book's best poems, Greg, " 'You paid for this,' whatever happiness is."