Mercy Seat

Bruce Smith, Author
Bruce Smith, Author University of Chicago Press $22.5 (55p) ISBN 978-0-226-76405-4
Paperback - 47 pages - 978-0-226-76406-1
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The poems in Smith's ( The Common Wages ) third book are musically inspired meditations on life in America during an era of upheaval. The poet's vision is retrospective, constantly circling back to the years that formed him, as in ``Self-Portrait as Foreign Policy'': ``His body was two-thirds water and one-third doctrine. / Like a swimmer borne up by salt water / he was carried in the hands of Dean Acheson / and George C. Marshall, the good soldiers.'' Against this backdrop, the life of the individual connotes confusion and frustration; after military service, the poet's father comes home, ``a boy inside him / like a shell that didn't explode.'' Meanwhile, the sons listen to the blues at night (``it made us glow like vacuum tubes in bed''), a music that speaks to them, but accidentally: ``We intercepted notes intended for / the divinely affirmed Nat Turner and the others / and formed a wall between the bedrooms from that blackness / that was everything misunderstood and other than us.'' That the poet is ``annoyed by four / decades of America'' is something of an understatement. While his rage often translates into a furious verbal bebop, some of the poems, particularly the shorter ones, feel incomplete, and sometimes Smith drifts into declamation (``I have what men have / who have never bled: I have speed, / destination, and the aftermath of murder / which is murder of a different order, / all answer and eloquent report.'' But Smith's originality cannot be gainsaid: he writes with a mission, with ``a past to hammer away at, a flower to hammer with.'' (Apr.)
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