Lo these many years ago, Jeanne gave me a copy of this book of poetry by David Baker, who is someone who lives in her own small town. It’s been sitting on my shelf ever since, because I don’t read nearly the amount of poetry I ought, and since January and February of this year have been Read All the TBR Books Months, I finally picked it up and read it. And I’m so glad I did. (It made miss Book Blogger Appreciation Week, though.)
Most of the poems in this volume start, and end, in the middle of something. They begin and end with words like Now or Again or And then. This is such a lovely way of hinting at the life of small towns: did they ever start, and will they ever end? They are always in the middle of some kind of evolution, changing customs, spreading out here and filling potholes there, changing slang, one neighborhood getting gentrified while another one is getting kind of seedy, young people leaving and other ones coming for the new business that moved in.
Baker’s poems reflect all this, the love, the history, the things you see when you take a walk, the strong presence of the women in town, what happens inside homes and behind closed doors. Not that this latter is twisted or dark; Baker doesn’t resort to this cliché. It’s just private, which is more heartwrenching than any cliché. These poems are intimate and small, and beautiful. It’s good that there aren’t more of them — they are a little bit samey — but what there is, is just right.
I’ll leave you with my favorite poem from the book, which is actually the very first one.
Top of the Stove
And then she would lift her griddle
tool from the kindling bin, hooking one
end through a hole in the cast-iron disk
to pry it up with a turn of her wrist.
Our faces pinked over to watch coal
chunks churn and fizz. This was before
I had language to say so, the flatiron
hot all day by the kettle, fragrance
of coffee and coal smoke over
the kitchen in a mist. What did I know?
Now they’ve gone. Language remains.
I hear her voice like a lick of flame
to a bone-cold day. Careful, she says.
I hold my head close to see what she means.