Jon Woodward, Rain
Publisher: Wave Books
2006, 88 pages, $14

jon woodward's second book, Rain, is a long poem divided into six, smaller sections-all of which explore the nature of grief. The lines of the poem are taut and succinct, with no punctuation and very little capitalization. Well-placed line breaks and word play create ambiguity, and hint that grief has no definite beginning or ending. Instead, it is always present, sometimes intrusively and other times subtly.

To heighten the everyday oddness of grief, Woodward also puts multiple ordinary images to work in new and strange ways. For example, strawberries are given the ability to see and to remember through "eyes each winking open." The speaker directs the reader: "pick up the strawberry / put it in your mouth." While the image and idea may seem bizarre, together they portray one of the many ways in which grief is managed in this collection.

More striking images, such as bombs and fire, also are included and emphasized in the section entitled "The Long Night of Ezekiel." Like the strawberries, these two images often seem surreal even as they address the speaker's grief. For example, during a conversation with his mother, the speaker says, "no I like chicken noodle / the phone suddenly bursts into / flames um hold on mom." An element of surprise sustains itself in the lines about bombings. The speaker remarks, "at what point did the / bombs begin to fall exactly." In doing so, the speaker indicates that grief has the ability to intrude and superimpose itself on the daily events of his life.

Grief also shows itself in the speaker's silence, which often occurs syntactically as well as overtly. For instance, one portion of "The Long Night of Ezekiel" begins "today has been a particularly / but then otherwise it'd mean." The lines that follow continue in this manner. Words are deliberately left unsaid. Many of the omitted words can be construed contextually; however, it is a deliberate movement that conveys the speaker's inability to articulate his grief fully, particularly when that grief is associated with someone whom he has known well and recently lost.

In the final section of the poem entitled "Love Poems and Myopia," the speaker begins to enjoy the simple acts of daily living, such as petting a cat. Grief is no longer omnipresent; instead, it exists in the other "half of the house" and only disturbs the speaker's life occasionally. The speaker's realization of this is portrayed in the final portion of the poem. He says:

sleep is
a brick floor that goes

on forever we breach out
of it like whales out
of the ocean whales silhouetted
like souls what vast tracts
of muscle they must have

and from what depths they
must begin to gain enough
momentum to clear the water
and how they hang for
some seconds in the sun

This recognition does not impede him; instead, it allows him to accept his grief, to appreciate its continuing existence in his life even as he hangs, briefly, in the sun.

-Erin Feldman


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