‘Boys’ Daniel Edward Moore
Duck Lake Books
ISBN 9781943900909, 38pp, £11.99
Daniel Edward Moore’s ‘Boys’ contains 25 poems that explore being male, men’s strengths, weaknesses, power and reluctance to admit vulnerability mostly through a son and father relationship. In ‘Right Speech’, a son meets his father at the airport,
‘The blazing gavel of a Florida sun
pounded the shores of praise and blame,
over runway number 7 before Tampa’s stars
broke into tears a soldier cried
down the cheeks of my Father.
Years later an ounce of bourbon
in a copter leaving sweet Saigon
made harmful sounds into seasonal drinks,
forcing my glass to spill his pain
hot, over ice, unmixed.’
A young son sees his father change coming home after participating in the Vietnam War. There are mixed feelings in the couplet, ‘broke into tears a soldier cried/ down the cheeks of my Father’. Father is capitalised suggesting reverence and father still being hero-worshipped yet the tears are a surprise, they belong to the soldier the father has become and the son isn’t yet ready to reconcile grief with the father figure. The scene is echoed in a drink of bourbon triggering PTSD, the hot pain not mixing with the cold ice. The stanza break hints that this was something never spoken of. Neither parent nor child willing open up and discuss the aftermath of war.
The bond of silent is further explored in ‘Waxing the Dents’, the ritual of polishing the car,
‘creating the delusion that father and son
found mutual joy in refurbishing steel
that men in Detroit made in sweltering rooms
with masks on their tired, weary faces.
He thought the fact that we’d gathered there,
under a blazing, burnt August sky,
proved we had passed that place on the road
where father and son kill each other for fun,
rather than spending a long, silent day
waxing the dents in what men made to carry
them both far away from each other.’
Physical work is a way of avoiding conversation that also offers the pretence of bonding. Even the car is made in a factory where men don’t talk – their masks and background noise a barrier to speaking and listening.
The title poem also looks at bonding over perceived mutual interests,
‘It sounded like
boys in the woods
kicking a dying wolf.
They called him faggot
and his eyes
rolled to heaven.
They called him hungry
and his face
ate the earth.
Like a drunk parade
of soccer ball stars,
welcomed them home,’
This time the boys bond to exclude and punish the one who is not typically masculine and heterosexual. On their return, they are raised to the level of celebrity. This pack-like behaviour doesn’t allow for nuance or difference but demands compliance to a stereotype, just like the muscular, pared down language and simple words. This contrasts with uneasy acceptance in ‘Anti-Psalm Queer Words from the Mouth’s Deep South’
‘In the beginning it was want, touch, the touch of want,
being transgressed by the dangerously different,
a film noir cartoon of my body’s insurrection
watching me storm through the moral checkpoint
where desire stripped down is a birdcage of beaks –
minus the shimmer of ebony wings intent on escape.
It was me who helped dirty things fly,
pigeons praying on the bed of my body
a translucent fan of origami skin thrashing heaven,
screeching listen to me, listen to hands that don’t give a damn
in a stranger’s pants at 2.00 AM. Hands become bowl
beneath the body of Christ in a small southern church’
There’s a loquacious urgency and daring as desire overrides convention.
The father and son relationship is revisited towards the end. In ‘Dear Father Military Coma’,
‘ after Saigon fell
on a runway in Tampa in my eight year old eyes
now 60 and red and worrying you
out of this hole in the center of my chest
you my Lazarus wrinkled in stone
I admit being tempted to roll you away
then I saw your hands not made of me
and knew I would be you someday.’
Through ‘Boys’ Moore explores different aspects of masculinity, the wariness and avoidance of vulnerability, the social urge to be strong and silent and what happens when an individual transgresses. A father and son relationship explores the difficulties in showing respect and emotion and the impact denial has. The poems don’t offer answers but illustrate how communication breaks when both transmitter and receiver are faulty: if a father can’t express himself, a son can’t listen but a son can’t listen if he’s never taught how to respond to what he’s hearing. The poems, however, shift rhythm and register to suit the message behind them.