cover image The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish

The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish

Joshua Weiner. Univ. of Chicago, $18 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-226-01701-3

Weiner’s third book, a gathering of short poems bookended by two long lyric poems, explores how consciousness can be consumed by war, illness, and work. The first is a Whitmanesque meditation on Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek that brings together disparate events and objects in one undulating form (“Thirty-three miles it meanders, heavy/ metals, phosphorus, chlorides, fertilizer” meets “the population of the army/ bedded in the makeshift wards/ is more numerous than the whole/ of Washington”); the second, “Cyclops,” is an ambitious sequence indebted to the act of seeing and being seen, to private loss and public cognizance, and to events and images from Abu Ghraib, excerpting testimony from the war on terror’s detainees. “Do you wish// to be something/ that you are not—/ shut your eye,” he writes. The middle section contains tight, shorter pieces, including the title poem, which begins, “is not a man being swallowed by a fish/ with eyes like eight-point throwing stars/ it’s a man being swallowed by a war/ a man being taken into the mouth of a woman/ or being swallowed by his work.” Weiner, in cataloguing what “the pastoral cannot contain,” uncovers the sharpest lyrics in this masterful book, at once poised and relentless. (Apr.)