(W.W. Norton & Company, August 1998, November 1999)
A collection of poetry in which Thomas Lynch tenders poems on life and death, history and memory, the local and the larger geographies.With one ear to the ground and another to the heavens, Lynch renders poems that echo mortality’s solid thud.
The combined perspectives of his two occupations–running a family mortuary and writing–enable Lynch to make unsentimental observations on the human condition, as reflected in Skating with Heather Grace (1987), his debut book of poems, and in The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, a group of essays that was an NBA finalist last year. The poems of this third collection linger over Lynch’s family history, the death of his father, and the recently departed residents of Milford, Michigan, who come his way: “When folks get horizontal, breathless, still life in Milford ends. They call. I send a car.”
He shifts easily between such wry provincialisms and coldly clinical recordings: “The scalp hairs are brown and long. There is dried/ vomitus on the face, around the mouth/ and on the neck. Natural teeth are present.” Other poems invoke the Latin titles of Gregorian hymns in gently irreverent lyric poems that foreground the poet’s Irish Catholic childhood (“I had a nunnish upbringing”) and preoccupation with “the bodies of women,/ the bodies of men, their sufferings and passions,/ the sacred mysteries of life and death.” “The Moveen Notebook,” a long free verse elegy for the poet’s grandmother, tells of an immigrant’s affecting vicissitudes. Lynch’s American Gothic narratives are perhaps best when read as extensions of his nonfiction work, but they are stand-alone compositions backed by a convincing poetic persona.
Thomas Lynch reads this poem out loud.