"and so we're left with what we're always left with:
the line that separates then and now,
the line that threads together our moments,
passing through us as it goes."
Curtiss is writing of the loss of his sister to a car accident and how we try to make sense of such a thing. We make peace with it, somewhat, and grudgingly. We build new and different connections with those we love. Our memories shift, and warp, based on who we're talking to and the passage time. Sometimes what we feel is real and true, and other times as Curtiss reflects so effectively in the poem Still, it's all scatter shot and crazy. But there is always a line, a before something happened, and an after, and it is in that before and after that Curtiss' work comes to life.
There are lines as well in How We Bury Our Dead by the Jonathan Travelstead and Addicts & Basements by the Robert Vaughan, but for Travelstead it is more than one line, parallel lines even, though not unlike Curtiss they are fraught with loss, grief and memory. There is the war in Iraq and what we lose when we are exposed to death and fear, our sense of stability, and of normalcy. But that isn't the only line Travelstead is bumping into and against. There is also the death of his mother, and the contorted feelings that come with a death of a relationship where the feelings were already contorted. From Paper Lantern:
"Mother, forgive me.
It took so long lancing the infection
I allowed grow inside me,
and now a sweet pain rises there
like the flickering eyes of paper lanterns
lit and carried away by the night.
Please forgive me for taking so long to know,
I loved you even then."
Vaughan is looking back as well in a mix of poetry and flash fiction, both the truth and something else. But it is the past in so many ways that seeps out. Vaughan's line is about a life lived, and lost to history, and what youth looks like when we run from place to place, and person to person, but also find homes, temporary and otherwise, that form who we were, and where we are now. Less than Travelstead or Curtiss though, we don't have as much of a sense of where Vaughan is now, but we also have the sense that there has been so much life lived that we are being introduced to the start of something. The addicts and basements that haunted his youth, are just that, the ghosts of his past, and the now is this, writing and beauty, and more is to come if we can just be patient and wait for the words. From Shades of Gray:
"The next day, I lie on the living room rug as they
carry all the furniture off. It seems random, rather
unpredictable. Did I live here?
The last thing they remove is the first thing I hung.
It's my empty birdcage.
I walk around the blank shell like a visitor."
There is loss and there is life. There is also change, and all three of these collections are sure to change your life as they have ours, if only for a moment at that.