I counted the water
towers, the active smokestacks. These were the breadcrumbs I thought would lead
me back. Now I know it’s possible to drive so far we forget why we left, that
the journey continues even after the car breaks down. I used to think I had no
message, but the message is me—bloodshot and hungry, spilled coffee down the
front of my shirt. People of the future, father round. I have traveled through
ink to greet you.
Connecticut poet and fiction writer Charles Rafferty, following eight chapbooks and six full-length collections of poetry, most recently The Smoke of Horses (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2017) [see my review of such here], is A Cluster of Noisy Planets: Prose Poems by Charles Rafferty (BOA Editions, 2021). As I mentioned in my review of that prior collection, there are elements of his prose poems that lean up against an arbitrary and very fluid boundary between poetry and prose into the work of short story writers such as Lydia Davis, composing as much in the realm of postcard story as lyric prose poem. “The moon shows up like a cigarette hole,” he writes, to close the poem “Less Buoyant,” “and the weather keeps milling our mountains into sand.” He composes narratives, but one with a compelling music across his lines as important as the words and his placement of them. I’m also reminded of American writer J. Robert Lennon’s remarkable short story collection Pieces for the Left Hand (Minneapolis MN: Graywolf Press, 2005) through the way that Rafferty paints such miniature portraits of scenes, moments and occurrences of action and/or thought. Across sixty short, individual and single-stanza prose poems, Rafferty composes short narratives and musings on beauty, attention and meaning, history and memory, and what sits beyond his front step.
The ice used to be a mile thick above your house, and every now and then the river uncovers a shard of Colonial flatware, an arrowhead, a piece of beer bottle incapable of cutting anything. The fragments add up. They tell us the story of how nothing can stay the same. I no longer worry that caterpillars are destroying my only oak. I don’t care if the Planning and Zoning Board approves another nail salon. Whenever you say that you’ll never leave your husband, I remind myself that whales used to live on land, that they weren’t much bigger than dogs.
It might be fair, as well, to refer to this particular collection as a kind of commonplace or sketchbook, composed of short pieces attending to the daily moments across his immediate scope of vision. If I had blurbed this collection, I might have offered: “Charles Rafferty strolls around his landscape, both internal and external, and takes pictures using only words.” There is something in the way Rafferty captures the essence of an idea or a moment across the short span of a sentence, or a collection of sentences; the way he encapsulates it, offering it up for a far broader and wider spectrum of readings. In certain poems, the distances he manages to cover from one end of the stanza to the other is quite stunning, and I find myself rereading almost in disbelief at what his narratives have accomplished, as though some of the most important elements of each poem is set not in the words he chooses or how he chooses them, but in what he sets amid and even beneath them. One marvels at what reads so easily, and yet, so utterly beautiful, wrenching and complex.
On the map I have, the
topographic lines of this hill look like God forgot to wipe away his
fingerprint before he got into his Bible and fled. I knew one of the murdered
boys. I had handed him a tissue once, to wipe his nose, as my daughter played
piano at her recital. The apologists are full of mysterious ways, but I know
evil when I see it. I can feel the thumb above me now, pressing down, fitting
the grooves of this hillside.