Carry On (elegies), by Adam Deutsch
Review by Lennart Lundh
“Carry On,” the front cover says, coupling those two words with “(elegies),” and that’s a double-edged phrase, the title poem being about carry-on luggage. Adam Deutsch’s chapbook of twenty-five poems is double-edged throughout. On first reading, it’s very author-personal and self-referential, as elegies often will be, but a later, careful oral reading makes the poems reader-personal, universally affective, and quite rewarding.
It quickly becomes obvious that none of the poems are elegies in the confined, traditional sense. Even “Great Aunt, Winter, & Sun” (p. 15), while written “for Marilyn Adler,” makes little reference to the deceased, and is more about the graveside ceremony that will “never really fill the hole” felt by the family. The bulk are, however, clearly about some form of loss, the sense of loss, or the aftermath of loss.
“The Roads Will Be Closed” (p. 5) swings from a classroom non-incident to the Cold War of the Fifties that now can only haunt but not harm:
I was schooled, too,
and my parents,
their sisters and brothers,
looking at the bomb shelter signs
beside the basement doors.
Individually spoken, but perfect for the universal impact of today’s world, “Packing Heat” (p. 6) concerns itself with the loss of principles, saying of a job offer after a year’s unemployment, “I must wrestle down / genuine objection to wearing a gun.”
“What Cuts through the Woods” (p. 8) speaks of urban sprawl’s impact on community, saying, “We all drink from the same well.” in a foreshadowing of the title poem. “Carry On” (p. 20), with the accent on the first syllable rather than the cover’s suggested last, re-emphasizes the “we” to make its lines resonate with truly shared loss:
We’re exiles of an old country’s
long gone century, erased analog tape.
We’re plowing through this life
in our longings so mighty, a bird swoops
up ahead and is creamed by the bumper.
At the physical center of the book’s thirty-seven pages, a pair of poems bring us to the two sides of our elegies and rememberings. “The Center for Personal Growth is Next Door to Cremation Services” (p. 16) describes those who refuse to let loved ones go, ending a short list with the recognition that, “We’re of a people / who keep absence / near. Handy / as duct tape.” This sets the stage for “Strangers, Autumn, & Gray” (p. 18), with its dedication “for those in the City of Ithaca Cemetery.” It speaks, in twelve lines, of those who have let go:
A whole other mass, back in their ground,
/ / /
. . . the monuments
abraded smooth, generations’
worth of runoff, drizzle, and pour.
There are, of course, other things than death to be found here. We’re treated to small, but serious, observations. “Golden Hill” (p. 34) says of preparing food, “Every beet I cut / looks like a heart / on fire in a Mexican / art piece.” and later points to “a flower dealer / watching a woodpecker / with priorities in order.” In “Our Advances Are Not Unique” (p. 24), the subject is how “A sugar maple’s arms built a chest / around the block’s telephone wires . . .”, and the closing “Returning” (p. 37) leaves us with “An incredibly mysterious current event: a garage / door is wide open, waiting for anything.”
We often think of elegies in terms of someone else’s physical death. Deutsch’s work comes to remind us that parts of each and all of us are dying every moment, often unnoticed until later. There isn’t always time or reason to mourn or feel melancholy, not until the speed of life slows, or an absence catches us by surprise. The message, as well as the poems which convey it, are well worth the reader’s consideration.
Adam Deutsch is the publisher at Cooper Dillon Books, and has work recently or forthcoming in Poetry International, Thrush, The Cossack Review, Ping Pong, and Typo, and has a chapbook called Carry On (Elegies). He teaches in the English Department at Grossmont College and lives in San Diego, CA. He can be found at adamdeutsch.com
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).