12
Jan
13

Christopher Buckley’s Sky (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 6/7, which was published circa mid-2006.

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Christopher Buckley's – SkyThe poems in Christopher Buckley’s Sky (The Sheep Meadow Press) move like a beam of light across a known universe full of believability until the poems arrive at what they don’t know, or are unsure of, where they fall into a gravity well of plaguing doubt & despair. Then, with the discovery of new energies, arise from the pit of the well & accelerate until they escape into a new universe which the poems encounter & accept.

In the opening poem, “A Little Poem About God,” God creates trees to give us humans a hint to look to the sky.

   Inventor of tree, a first draft of the vast prairies,
              He was looking for something
                        to direct attention.

   Then God put birds in the sky to direct us some more.

   After a while, He specialized in birds, the light
              analogies He hoped we’d pick up on
                        before they all disappeared.

Buckley acts in a similar manner, in a sense, as if saying, “I’m gonna explain the ways of the sky/universe to man.” He is going to explain the sky’s and universe’s significance. But he’s not as blatant & arrogant (confident?) as Milton saying, “I will justify the ways of God to Men.” No, Buckley is as subtle as the God trying to tip off humans to look to the sky. And for a few poems, Buckley glides through the beautiful universe until he begins to fall into that gravity well.

   The sky is in no hurry to reconnoiter, the ocean in no rush
                                                  to offer hints beyond

   The residual certificates of salt. Here we have only the unsolved
                                                  blue on hand, while, 

   In one sense, passing 50, I was sure there was something I knew
                                                  about the sky [. . .]

                                                  We knew God’s shoe size but

   Next to nothing about particle physics when the angels began
                                                  to ignore us for good.
                                                                                                       (“The Great Attractor”)

And from here, Buckley continues to fall through complacency:

                                                   At the mouth of the harbor
   the buoy lights
                                  set against the sky
                                                                 might be stars
   just as well.
                                                                 (“Mediterranean Clouds”)

Through despondency:

      for the sky
                         the preamble
                                               of light tumbling
                                                                     in their blood,
   still in their pebble-sized hearts.
                                                          Brush strokes on the horizon
   the imponderable
                                   backdrop of air.

                                                                      The birds suggest
   it is impudent to question
                                              what we’re given
                                                                             before the dark,
   what thin intimations spin away
                                                     just over our heads –
   what clues dissolve against the blue,
                                                     or just hold vaguely on,
   like a little mist, almost overlooked,
                                                     and offered up
   on the salt-white light
                                              off the sea. . . .

                                                              (“Mediterranean Clouds”)

Through despair:

Anyway, we were going to spend Eternity in hell if we did not do as we were told. Sister explained that Eternity was like an enormous steel ball, the size of earth, upon which an eagle, gliding in from the cosmic starry dark beyond Cleveland and the east coast, once every million years, landed and took off again. The time it took that steel ball to completely wear away from the friction of the eagle landing and lifting away was less than a second of Eternity, the time we’d be burning on a hot rock for causing, eating hot dogs on Fridays, not making our yearly Easter obligation of communion and mass, or having impure thoughts about Belinda Sanchez. Go figure.

[. . .] What then have we been suffering for all along? More specifically, what have I been doing with that image like a fish hook in my brain for 48 years? (“Eternity”)

And through desperation & delusion:

                                 and
   the soul, like any one
   of them, is red-shifted
   away from here,

   [. . .]

   I look out to where
   everything has vanished. . . .
   Thirty years is nothing.
                                          (“Stars Above Fresno”)

Buckley questions symbols & meanings, God & the universe, & the act of striving or trying. He has encountered desperation & utter doubt not unlike Gerard Manley Hopkins in his Terrible Sonnets. Buckley becomes existential upon discovering there is no God. And so he falls deeper into the gravity well of deep despair.

   I have no new feelings about God who I no longer
   believe is hiding above the golden

   sycamores.
                                             (“Poem Freely Accepted From the Polish”)

While he falls, he funnels down metaphoric visions of the universe to a global level then a personal level. And continues to plummet until he discovers a way to arise, to find meaning – a raison d’être – a reason for writing.

   where I
   try to order
   thoughts
   like a few of the wind’s
   random notes,
   like dry sage leaves
   blowing nowhere
   across the Mojave. . . .
                                        (“Desert Song, At 52”)

(These lines parallel, a little bit, the desperation of Eliot’s lines “Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.” But unlike the end of “Gerontion,” Buckley begins his ascension & avoids drying up.)

So Buckley begins his ascent by using metaphors from the personal level & funneling them up, giving them to a global & cosmic level.

   Here,
   where the agapanthus
   and star lillies

   lift up their throats
   I, too, stand
   and give thanks
   for my breath reclaimed
   from the dry froth.
                           (“Imperfect Contrition”)

Eventually, Buckley arises from his gravity well of despair with new symbols of meaning:

   so why not
   some stanzas
   that accommodate
   the unlikely imposition of meaning
   outside any good
   it might ever do us on earth.
                                                  (“Imperfect Contrition”)

& with a momentum to carry on:

   I know only that
   I mean to be here.
                                  (“Physics & the Secret of Nothing”)

//

//

//

Buckley, Christopher. Sky. Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY: The Sheep Meadow Press, 2005.//


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