cover image Scale


Nathan McClain. Four Way, $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-935536-90-1

Conflicting experiences of fatherhood—the poet’s own experience growing up without a father, his efforts to be a good father without a model—intersect at the center of McClain’s debut collection. His lack of paternal guidance is depicted as an urgent preoccupation in such poems as “Fire Destroys Beloved Chicago Bakery,” in which the word “fire” morphs into “father” and a building must be razed because “the father took hours/ finally to be put out.” It also takes on religious connotations, as disciples await the return of their own absent man, and other metaphorical guises, some more effective than others. McClain relates to the hungry fish in a koi pond, “with their popping mouths, that would kiss// those hands again if given the chance. So dumb.” The references feel more forced elsewhere, as the poet imagines his father in an Edward Hopper painting or falls apart watching two men do a crossword puzzle. This fatherless abyss creates unease in his relationship with his daughter, as expressed in “Used Camaro,” in which car trouble results in angst over paternal failures. McClain treads ground covered many times before, but his spare verse is atmospheric and graceful in its depiction of the steady ache that comes when absence permeates a life. (Mar.)