Robert Kostuck reviews The Review Mirror by David M. Harris.
Author: David M. Harris
Unsolicited Press, 2013, 52 pp.
Regret? David M. Harris has none. Loss, lost opportunities, unrealized dreams—in the poems in The Review Mirror he uses the perspective of the moment to revisit the past. Wistful, while avoiding sentimentality, he plucks not the choicest but the dearest: Imagine holding and polishing this concise visual image, brought up from a depth and repeated year after year:
. . . teaching the ball and glove to belong together / binding the tools of summer / to their tasks / possibilities and prospects. / Binding myself to baseball. / In March, we are all dreamers.
We all have memories, few of us can relinquish the subjectivity of original experience. Yet even fewer care enough to set aside that subjectivity and look anew into the mirror that is the self. Memory stimulates us with bygone emotion and in doing, prevents us from seeing what the present offers; the fear of losing past passion prevents us from looking backward with objectively. In several selections it is the present moment igniting the past—a balancing act capturing and holding the reader’s attention. Vignettes drawing me in and confronting me, engendering associations I own completely—this is the poet’s task: describing the edifice by explaining a single stone or timber.
Evocative? Yes—with a mixture of Latinate roots and Anglo-Saxon tonality—the oral tradition that conjures up poem as song, song as tale, and tale as history. Every story must be a vignette, whether it is fifty words or five thousand pages. Filling five thousand pages with what may be said: this is the easy path; distilling that same message onto a single page—successfully—is the modern poet’s challenge. Mr. Harris meets this challenge and bests it without falling into a tautology of either/or; nor does he merely sift springtime’s cornucopia for kernels of meaning. Considerations of the past inform the present, challenge the future.
In “Lost and Found,”
Amassed knowledge has the weight of air.
My father’s hard-won erudition dispersed
with the books my mother sold,
but his legacy
A small box of pictures:
He is in uniform, against anonymous backgrounds.
On the backs: August 1944
or visiting MI-6 or just Lausanne.
Meaning gone with him.
Should I be busy with labels and explanations?
All those images of travel and life and lore,
All fading in my hands.
important in my own junk drawer.
And the bitter poignancy of the day, the challenge to his offspring closes the poem:
What will fall in here?
What will I lose?
What will my daughter find?
A nostalgic eroticism reminiscent of Pablo Neruda’s sexual hagiographies glides into view; the father and husband acknowledging desire: an old uniform which no longer fits, but which is impossible to throw away.
The last black snow seeps into the sewer.
Tables bloom on Bleecker Street.
A student notes a haze of green on the trees below, changes
her mind: short aqua skirt and yellow scooped blouse,
unveiling her to the unfamiliar sun, dazzling
the memories of the old men.
From sewer, the discards of culture (or sewer, as with thread, another name for the poet joining together these images, or, absorbing the detritus of winter) to sun, dazzling—the reach backward into another’s spring, the reflected image of his own experience.
He points to it. Blood, breath, heat prickling the skin; stopping short of the furtive tear. Sweet, with sour on the side.