cover image The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands

The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands

Nick Flynn, Graywolf, $22 (104p) ISBN 978-1-55597-574-6

Terse, at times horrifying, and hard to forget, Flynn's third collection of poems—the first since his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004) made him something of a celebrity—tackles topics familiar from the last decade's news: the captain of the title, who appears in the longest poems, is at once an absent, wicked, or unanswering God, a vague father, a political authority, and a military leader in a place much like Abu Ghraib. "Capt'n, we can do as we wish, we can do/ as we wish with the body// but we cannot leave marks"; "one drop hangs on the prisoner's tongue—capt'n// are we allowed to force him to swallow?" Torture, imprisonment, and arduous military service are leitmotifs, or metaphors, in most of the volume's poems, and a wartime, warlike, post-9/11 America forms their backdrop: "the tower towers above us/ now, we can see it/ from wherever." Flynn's political anger does nothing to diminish his raggedly individual voice, and his shorter efforts include what sound like dissonant wartime love poems: "First thing we should do/ if we see each other again is to make/ a cage of our bodies—inside we can place/ whatever still shines."" (Feb.)