cover image The Constitution

The Constitution

Brian Foley. Black Ocean (SPD, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-939568-04-5

Foley's road-weary debut derives beauty from exhaustion and manages to counter, through the poems' sparseness and crispness, the kind of poetry whose raison d'%C3%AAtre is the exhaustion of beauty. "Just look in two eyes that years took out," he writes, hazarding the question of what constitutes the body and the body politic alike, and arriving at his answer with full-circle fatalism: "As soon as we finish/ we want to be// understood again." Foley's lines feel both distilled of impurities and at risk for demolition, as though he's "asked a blank/ piece of paper// to wishbone." His minimalism is fascinating in its ability to tonally blur the lines between a redacted version of America's most sacred text and the earnest last breath of a man with a lot of miles on him. The book begins in media res, after battle has been declared and destruction looms large, and Foley wastes no time in making his most heartbreaking claim: "Already we need/ hay to fill/ our effigies." These lines may locate Foley in the heritage of Homer and literature's most sacred war text, but in his contemporary world, fueled as it is by uncertainty about our future, "one wants to hire/ the horrors of today// ...more than/ one angry Achilles." (Mar.)