“Still Life in Milford is–perhaps unsurprisingly–haunted by death. Its author, after all, is that most celebrated of poet-undertakers, Thomas Lynch of Milford, Michigan. Evidently poetry and undertaking are felicitous occupations for one obsessed with the larger questions, and Lynch finds abundant material in the vacant eyes of corpses, in the pages of small-town obituaries, even in the autopsy notes from Dr. Kevorkian’s patients. Yet throughout, Lynch maintains a sturdy, undertaker’s stoicism in the face of the cruelest ironies death has to offer. After all, he has “certain duties here. Notably, / when folks get horizontal, breathless, still: / life in Milford ends. They call. I send a car.” In some ways, Lynch holds a pleasingly old-fashioned view of “the human hunger for creation”: “the act of ordering is all the same–” he writes in the collection’s title poem, “the ordinary becomes a celebration.” And he does nothing if not celebrate the ordinary: small-town life, marriage, his Irish relations’ hardscrabble lives. Yet beyond these poems’ orderly surfaces lies chaos. Writing about a fatal car accident in “That Scream if You Ever Hear It,” he addresses an (imaginary? internal?) critic, the one who tells him, “Rub their noses in it.”
I know you don’t need symmetry or order so that the biker died in pieces– the arm with the tattoo reading SHIT HAPPENS thrown a hundred yards from the one with NO TOMORROW on it–doesn’t impress you.
What will impress, he concludes, is that the bereaved mother’s scream, when it finally emerges, “won’t rhyme with anything.” Faced with the unthinkable, Lynch can only shrug, bury the body, do his job as both poet and undertaker: “And if rhyming’s out of fashion, I fashion rhymes / that keep their distance, four lines apart, like so.” –Mary Park