earthling by Steve Healey

(Coffee House Press)

The opening section of Steve Healeyís poem "the end of soon" is a good example of his writing in this volume:


Only days left in summerís flux emporium.

Then back to the red-blooded clockwork.
               Meat and ticking ribcage.

The beets are still in the ground.
Tick, tick. 
The title is fresh and intriguing, not your great grandmotherís everyday usage. The treatment of Time begins its wind there and continues muscling in on the opening line. Summerís role as an emporium of change plays a drastic beat when coupled between the mad-horse emotions of "Only days left in" and the next stanzaís punishing lines about going back to work, maybe farming, maybe any job or school spirit-dulling enough to underscore the agony of the ticking clock. Of course, Healey isnít that simple to analyze. He leaps from meaning to meaning as can be seen even in the lines I mentioned. It could be that "the red-blooded clockwork" is more literally a heartbeat. Or an animal about to be slaughtered, or a vegetable, like the beet, learning its own evolution.

Some other lines that diamond in the brilliant dazzle of Healeyís work come in the poem "small winter":


This is the white that was everywhere.
This is the sound of it,
the white cake born that last first day
chewed alive by our watery teeth.
This is the frozen lake and the way
we walked over it with ships

These lines speak well enough for themselves and the beautiful image of ships walking drags us out of the hum drum world and into a place where we can hear the beating of wings. There is a slight misstep in the follow-through of that image when Healey dogs on with the explanation that the ships are used "for feet". The triple meanings of this, distance and shoe and "feat", are interesting enough, but somehow curb the ecstatic image of giant arkshod people Bunyaning over the frozen lakes.

In his final poem of the volume, Healey blazes some great lines and images. I donít have room to reprint "circumstantial", but here is an abbreviated version (all lines are from the poem, but many have been cut or shortened by me due to lack of space...so if interested in the uncut version, go find the book).


They found a body by the river.

They found...
In the breast pocket, a torn matchbook cover,
black ballpoint map going south.

...they found the face.
a palimpsest of looks, darker wards,
moonstruck houses. Something...

a turning corner that didnít say goodbye,
thereís a reason for being gone

...and I will always love that
autumns ago even weather seemed slow
to change. We...

...found the sun there
a bruise coming the long way home
like a brainchild or last disciple
of a lost summer...

And there is much more to this poem. For instance, it contains images of telepathic fish, ideas surrounding the titleís inference to circumstantial evidence, and the final lines describe a tree on a bluff that could double as a hangmanís tree, or a Joshua tree, all of which might tag back to the imagery of the disciple and the fish.

A quick register of some of the titles in this book might be helpful. My favorites are: "diary of a space suit"; "iím feeling kind of bifurcated"; "x-ray blue"; and "i live two doors down from the powerball winner".

The poems in earthling are written for the alienated among us; the imprisoned, the poor, the homeless, and the hopeless. They come crowded with diamondly images which hang, as Paige Mitchell once wrote, "like drops of frozen light," surrounded by a surprising intellect. And as an added bonus there is a wry humor haunting most of the pieces of this book.

- Gregory Clark