cover image Home Burial

Home Burial

Michael McGriff. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $15 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-55659-384-0

McGriff’s second volume begins with a tale and a shock: “Kissing Hitler,” says the poem of the same name, was the author’s name for “siphoning gas,/ huffing shop rags.// And we kissed him everywhere,” over an adolescent “summer/ when people just went crazy.” The pages that follow delve further into rural hardscrabble misfortune and misadventure, in rough free verse with an American gothic affect: “Is your charity the green rot/ of a fence post?” McGriff asks. “Are you near me/ as I clean this ashtray/ with my sleeve?” With rough portrayals of “rifle shots and laughter,/ gravel roads crunching under pickups,” “the night inside a barn owl’s wing-hush,” and even a reminiscence of snake handling, McGriff (Dismantling the Hills) can evoke early Denis Johnson or early C.D. Wright, substituting his own Pacific Northwest for her mid-South. “The Light in November” falls on “the Lucky Logger Diner” and “behind my father/ as he walks home from the cannery,” while other signs of rebirth and epiphany, luck and ease, recede before a territorial “thin white noise hissing/ at the back of everything.” Readers may disagree as to how much is new, in subject, in treatment, and in sound, but McGriff’s vivid grit remains hard to gainsay. (Mar.)