cover image Run the Red Lights

Run the Red Lights

Ed Skoog. Copper Canyon, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-55659-503-5

“When a matriarch dies,/ someone ought to tell the bees, whose words/ are dance, honey and sting,” writes Skoog (Rough Day) in his third collection, revealing an electric impulse behind his seemingly effortless ability to transform the prosaic details of work, parenting, and daily persistence into nervy musical artifacts. Impersonal forces can dwarf human concerns—“The chair I’m sitting on is mostly nothing./ Electrons go right through it”—but Skoog adroitly details the quiet devastation that can be wrought by art’s insufficient ability to act as a stay against chaos. “Last night a painter friend called. His life is falling apart,” he writes in one poem. “I don’t know how to look at art,” his speaker confesses in another: “there’s a certain kind of terror/ I’m trying to outgrow, or live beyond.” But such terror doesn’t prevent Skoog from vividly rendering scenes and conversational digressions: “The past is like an acre-wide/ tire fire tended by tire-fire specialists/ to whom the fire matches/ in beauty the rubber burning/ beneath, palisades of red spectra,/ which merge and combine/ like harmonic notes, egg-yolk/ yellow riffs, orange motifs, then/ magenta.” Whether Skoog is recalling the landscapes of his native Topeka or musing on pop music, his work is richly and affectingly informed by “change’s sad song.” (Nov.)