Rough Traces
by Jason Wesco

(Shake Dust Press)

For me a good review has to be like an optical illusion. It has to show two things at once, like those two faces and the vase together, Rubin's Vase, I think it's called. They are inextricably bound and each only a part of the story. Fact is some readers need eyes and chins to determine whether the work is worth seeking out. Others are more interested in knowing if it can hold flowers. So for this, my first real review, I decided to sit in the hot sun and try to get inside this book, see what Wesco is trying to say and what you might need to hear, both at the same time.

Rough Traces is small towns and real people honored with enjambment. From the cover of young, vintage smiles giving it up for a chance at history through to the last perfectly metapoetic line, the works here are like a good Whiskeytown song, like trading in your shiv for a pocket knife handed down to family. You'll find a sincere appreciation for what came before, with the poet himself glancing now and again at his own reflection in storefronts and rear views on his way to the next dying town.

It's about the people- bikeless bikers, unnamed loved ones, and nostalgic porch rockers as in the sublime "Delilah Shopteese and Her Pug Ruckus."

Cecil Hanratty, says
she gives off something
he ain't smelt since
God himself was in
knee pants and whistling.

It's about places-dusty stores and whole states seen in microcosm and daguerreotype ("Gorgeous George's Used Hat Emporium", "Pennsylvania"). You're beside him hearing what he sees taken down on napkins or from the corner of his smile.

It's also about mile marker moments that give it all a meaning for you, like in "She Says Timothy", a piece published here in Whistling Shade. It's haunting and tender and familiar in a way I'd be a fool to try to explain.

I step behind her and
say something soft.
walk her to the guest
room and help her out
of her apron. She lies
on her side and closes
her eyes. I say easy and
sleep and picture this
bed in a field of
rye, maybe, or timothy.

Now I'm one to look for an angle. I've seen enough skewed trucker caps on twenty-somethings to question new authenticity. But I'll tell you this, if Wesco's doing that here, he's doing it with such heart or talent that I just don't care. I thoroughly enjoyed the pieces in this 73-page collection, worth every cent of the ten dollars he's asking.

Finishing Traces I wipe my brow and it hits me that what Wesco has accomplished here is more than a collection of corn-fed ponderings and rusty locks put to ink-he's done Rubin one better in creating a shifting illusion of places, faces and moments that works no matter what it is you think you're seeing.

- Michael K. Gause