“drunk on basil and shining”

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

22 of 100: Mysteries in a World That Thinks There Are None by Gary McDowell (2016, Burnside Review Press)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • If you ask me about things I have faith in, I would struggle to come up with much of a list, but Things the Narrator Has Faith In is part of this book’s DNA. It’s an imperfect attention (not blind devotion). Instead, it’s the kind of faith that hold things dear, studies them and understands them as part of a larger whole.
  • The pacing of the book interests me. I experienced each poem as a prayer/meditation, and so I think I wrecked the pacing by reading it in large chunks. It feels like a better way would have been to read a poem and then give it some space before moving onto the next poem. It’s not because of any kind of density/heaviness, not really. Quite the opposite. For some reason, even though they aren’t unicorns and rainbows by any stretch, the poems themselves create a lightness, a way of levitating.
  • I love the size of the physical book. (It’s smaller than the typical size.)

Lines I want to remember:

  • “Sitting next to an anthill / feels like this. They work so hard. // And for so little. For salvation. / This is the mystery. This is forgiveness.”
  • “Let there be undoing and more time. / … Let there be haircuts, matching // forks and spoons: the little things. … / Let there be enough. Let there be. Let there be / lunch on a Tuesday. Quiet, more time, / two bodies because the world // could stand to be still sometimes, / and sometimes it never is, and so let there be wine / and pulp and singing and devour me.”
  • “The secret / to monsters is that they attract / us.”
  • “I dream of up-picked wind, begrudged / pines, bent-over, low like the moon in half water– / the other half. A mystery greater than blindness, / but deeper, jerks you, jerks me, but harder, / into the water, the small lake, the deepest / point, the drift. The nudged, the toward, / middle, the letting. … / even the skeptics know that trembling / stars on the water’s surface means / you better sit your ass down.”
  • “The bees are constellations in the garden, / drunk on basil and shining.”
  • “Lately, I’m jealous. Of rocks, / their candor. … / Of men with nothing / but knapsacks and last names: / miles of road ahead of them, / their next stop here or there / or anywhere but here or there.”

What others have said:

  • from a blurb by Traci Brimhall: “In Gary McDowell’s Mysteries in a World that Thinks There Are None to know the world is to know an object, to tell beak from jaw, to hold the skull in your hand and have it say homesickness. A fact is a thing of intimacy, and intimacy is made from obsession and bats hanging from the pylons like black grapes. These silhouettes are ‘the space between an image and its evidence’—the body Rorschaching every lit surface with stolen pears thrown to the pigs and an odd number of roses, thorns still on. Reading these poems, I am more than myself. I am etymology and egg, am the mysterious rabbit hole of fact, am as massive and tiny as a star. This book has the patience of a stone and the urgency of a library on fire. It is the prayer I wish could be written in cursive on God’s ear.”

Where some of the poems from this collection live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!


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