cover image For Dust Thou Art

For Dust Thou Art

Timothy Liu, . . Southern Illinois Univ., $27.50 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-8093-2652-5

In Liu's sometimes searing sixth volume, a grim sequel of sorts to last year's much-lauded (and more ambitious) Of Thee I Sing , Liu again shows equal facility with clean, clear descriptive poems and with dense, almost agrammatical ones. Erotic pleasure, erotic danger and traumatic personal histories take center stage in the opening and closing series: the poet observes "a father's drunken breath// pinning a child's shoulders," "linen falling off our laps as boytoys bathe," and "jocks peeling off their shorts on a private beach." Liu's strings and piles of phrases, many of them in harsh unrhymed pentameters, incarnate and channel many sorts of rage. As the book continues, it looks more and more like an extended, tormented elegy, imagining both the Christian and the Egyptian world of the dead. The central sequence concerns the events of September 11, with details from the financial district's carnage (such as "Mangled I-beams") that few other poets have chosen to represent: "You think you know where you are," Liu writes. "At least where you were when it all came crashing down." By the end, Liu achieves some measure of calm and confidence in his own outlook, explaining in percussive rhythms "how I chose// to defy such a world as this." (Oct.)