cover image What The Right Hand Knows

What The Right Hand Knows

Tom Healy, . . Four Way, $15.95 (70pp) ISBN 978-1-884800-95-5

Laconic yet passionate and sparely personal, the poems in this first book set urbanity and unfolding tragedy in common words and slow-moving, short lines. A gallery owner since the 1990s and a significant figure in New York City's art scene, Healy unsurprisingly sets some poems there; his real gifts emerge, though, in allegorical or remembered rural locales. In one poem “mother and son” take “a Sunday drive on Tuesday” through the land where they grew up, “their remembered selves waving,/ as farmers do.” The specter of chronic disease, likely HIV, looms over that and other verse (“Everyone is so involved/ keeping track of my pills”), while the shadow of time passing besets them all; readers who admire Mark Doty may find far more concise versions of Doty's effects. Healy's finest moments make him spare, elegiac and wry all at the same time: “What do we do when we hate our bodies?/ A good coat helps.” So often interested in bodies, their pleasures, their troubles, Healy frequently decides that neither poetry nor anything else can console us when bodies don't work: “sleep, vegetables, short walks” or even poems all seem to lead “to the logic of failure,// the panic that mind/ is not enough.” (Nov.)