that often attacks the blood, death and blood are everywhere in “Elegy” and the penultimate movement of the poem, number 20, concludes with one of many references in the book to savage sacrifice. In a passage written some 20 years ago, Rice evokes the recent Los Angeles riots, ritualistic sacrifice and his own sense of personal ruin: And Durer gasped on first seeing Inca sun six foot wide gasped silver moon … perceiving all men had Craft & Giant Heart & who is savagery? Lost, my friends, they took the metaphors literally, lost in ramshackle moonlight kicking meat the bus pulls up they stand in its headlights the 7-Eleven manager cries out MUCH MUCH MUCH my business is ruined … ketchup, all the ketchup broken … they didn’t want to eat anything they just wanted to have everything… This same allusion to human sacrifice is employed by Rice in “Time in Tool,” one of the most impressive single poems in the collection. In this piece from the “New Work” section, Rice makes an oblique allusion to savagery while he and his parents are in a Dallas shopping mall: “The beauty and safety of the Mall is our forefathers’ gift. . . . The sun is setting but we are immune. / We / go down into / manpower, humor, debt. We look at shirts. / We buy shirts. This is the moment / the flint knife digs out / the jumping heart of the sacrifice / slave. Then we sit calmly on the lip of the planter, / fulfilled.” The scene here is reminiscent of sometime Texas poet Leon Stokesbury’s “Day Begins at Governor’s Square Mall,” which may also suggest how shopping in the artificial confines of a mall has become a savaging form of escapism. Rice’s use of the mall, however, is more resonant in that it recalls the book’s many references to sacrifice, all deriving from the poet’s own personal attachment to an innocent victim. Other images and motifs central to “Elegy” and to Rice’s later poetry concern eating: of flesh, by shadows, “a white moth” by a frog, “the gypsy’s dream” consumed by the lion in the Rousseau painting. Lamentation and bloodletting, “filthy grave” and “much morgue” are motifs that combine with details from life that, according to an old Japanese, cannot be ignored, in order for “godly sperm” to leap “from silkworm.” Again, a type of existentialism enters the poem: “No joy is merely a handhold on something less. / What it squeezes, it is.” Squeezing, bleeding, meat, eating, cannibalism and death are image-motifs around which Rice’s poems revolve, creating in a kaleidoscopic technique the heart-rending grief at the loss of a loved one but also achieving a deeply felt philosophy for survival. A number of the poems confront the impend ing death of the daughter by seeking to recount the experience as it happens. Although later in “Time in Tool” the poet will confess that “it is not clear when autobiographical data should be suppressed,” in the earlier “The 29th Month” the speaker declares “I want to make it be in words, because / to get the poem right / is to have another baby / while the real one dies.” In another poem from Part I of “Some Lamb,” entitled “Trying to Feel It,” the speaker again attempts to endure the experience through writing: “So I write this. So I / Try to give birth. Me, / a man.” In poem after poem, the poet peers unflinchingly into the jaws of his daughter’s death, as in a piece named after her, “Michele Fair,” which elaborates the imagery of death feeding on the young girl, even as it concerns how “Naked Knowing” is “the Substance Beast” that “keeps check on me / To see that I have fed it me / Just as policemen like to see / A proper show of humility in those they rule.” The most horrifying vision of innocence eaten is in “The Last Supper,” with its image of a child like a watermelon dropped on concrete by the “crusher of children,” the “Baby-eater.” Along with such oppressive but artful pieces in Part I, there are, among others, two magnificently uplifting poems that even as they register the horror of the loss record a visionary coming to grips with life and death: “Only two choices / To stress: go on, or give in.” In “Testimonial” the occasion of death has heightened the poet’s senses, as it always does, and the poem manages to capture the paradoxical nature of this desolating yet maturing experience: “My capacity for belief increased / As my number of beliefs diminished … I care so much / I don’t care any more.” The poet discovers that “Nothing mattered therefore / But the ambivalence of accurate / Illusions: art.” For Rice the function of his own art is to employ verbal charms as a magic ritual of exorcism. And yet what is involved in the four sections of “Inc anto” which begins with an allusion to Blake’s dichotomy of lamb/tyger \(“Time / hath made off with the last lamb left”; “Which tyger shall about a wedding of “Clarity & Vividness, both miracles,” by simultaneously describing the death scene in all its overwhelming detail and by asserting that “If I’m to go on / the terms of the slaughter must be known,” that such “cannibalism” of a precise art’s clarity is necessary for there to be “No more death.” Ultimately the poet believes that “To write this right is to cope with the corpse.” The second part of “Some Lamb” deals with “After,” which engenders repeated and painful remembrance, drunkenness, guilt, loss of marital love \(“Her thighs are tight. / My cock’s no “Body in disquiet / . . . slowly, slowly thrive / On what [their] luggage closed upon and ate.” However, even in these poems the poet is “singing yet,” as the last line of “Singing Death” affirms. And in “Anne’s Curls” the poet overcomes his guilt feelings “Maybe / if I’d sought out a better doctor in Houston / Mouse would’ve lived longer. / Like you wanted to. Every / death’s a murder. A million maybes”and in “Madness: Fullgrown” he can announce: “Madness . . . we have been, we have done. I What you have given is what I’ve outgrown.” There are so many profound and finely constructed poems in Singing Yet \(like the Whitmanesque “America the Beautiful” in which the poet pledges allegiance “this time to the vivification of our lost Body Politic, / nerves and follicles and arteries / ablaze in the cover even a fourth of this collection, which runs to 226 pages. The sound and sense of even a shorter piece like “How Keep Dark and Pattern Off” cannot be appreciated unless the complete poem is reproduced. For me one of the most amazing pieces remains “Time in Tool,” a more prosy narrativethan Rice’s tighter lyricsthat builds cumulatively through 11 pages of “the most mundane things” to ask several crucial questions, such as “How is it possible to know when to stop remembering things?” Something of an urban version of Rice’s more nursery-rhyme-like pieces, with their often grim reminders of the cruelties visited on the innocent, “Time in Tool” defines to some degree its own masterful achievement: “Though the tone wanders I the intent is song. I Sometimes it may sound like the cowboy song of a child.” As a volume of selected poems from a major publisher, Stan Rice’s Singing Yet stands as a monument to the truth of the poet’s own life andwritings as proclaimed in the first four lines of this compelling book: “All life / has song. Tho the ear be sad / still it sings songs. / Men cannot be so gone.” arrives at a new understanding of his relationship with his wife: “To die of fear of revealing yourself / to the person who loves you is murder.” In the “Body of Work” section the poet has survived the “wreckage of remembering . . . Burying the never-to-beforgotten bone” and is now “Singing along with the wrecking ball.” Here he recovers “Tenderness” in the poem of that title: “To learn not to hate the original tenderness / that rendered you helpless.” At this point the poet seems to return to his childhood and to rediscover the thrill of sexual difference in “What Happened in the Hallway.” And even though he can still experience a death wish, as in “The Fishing,” the final movement of his “Texas Suite” Again I ache to slide from my body. The lures lie naked in the tackle box. I envy them. Above me the [electric] tower to which I am tied is “singing.” I slip over the edge of the boat into the cold water and wait for one of the gods to take me by the hair and pull my body off me like a nightgown 20 OCTOBER 2, 1992
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