Of Men

Kate Gale
(Red Hen Press)

Kate Gale specializes in poetry about love, men, women, sleep, war, dreams, religion, death, myths, fights, abuse, children, Mexico, drinking, sleep, good soup, lime and milk, knives, dogs, prayers, Prozac and "The Joy of Sex:"

    Thongs, garters, silk scarves,
    high heels, flash lights, toe rings,
    glow-in-the-dark condoms
    plastic noses, maple syrup,
    masks with extra facial hair,
    nipple rings, clothespins
    orangutan photos,
    that Rabbi mask you used to wear.
    scared the hell out of me
    nothing was quite the same.

The power comes from the fact that it is honest, often funny, sometimes weird, spectacularly hard-nosed, always to-the-point. None of this Jorie Graham wimpishness, none of the Guggenheim summer-in-Livorno stuff, none of these show-off references to Ulysses, Shakespeare, Agamemnon. It's here-and-now fist-in-the-nuts poetry. For instance this, "Staying with Corduroy," a mother "alone with her son's body,"

                         His face is round
    spattered with red dew drops, fingers still curved....
    She takes his hand to her mouth,
    rocks gently, singing to him.
    If he isn't hungry any more, he won't come home
    to eat. She had given him yellow socks for Christmas.
    She pulls them off his feet. His toes
    are perfectly lined up, his body unnaturally curved.

If you want to give it a word, that word would be understatement. You and I contemplating the death of our son would fill the world with our cries and anger, screams of Medea for a system gone wild and wrong. For Gale, it is a world that continues with what the blues singers called "its used-to-be:"

    In the next room, someone is playing a waltz.
    Sunlight rains down outside. A lot of people
    Are going to the beach, the radio says.
    When she opens the door and sees someone
    sleeping on the steps, the heat and light swirling
    though the legs of the palm trees seems unbearable.

Understatement, and that literary calm, the calm that seems so peculiarly American --- the calm of Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein.

The title poem, unusually didactic for the author, has to do with the twelve apostles, who are, in this case, followers of "the Grateful Dead/or the Doors." In the context of her writing, it is, too, a sly reference to the unabashed and sometimes overwhelming sexuality driving the women she describes, so winningly and so well.

--- Judith Sessions
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