Anyone’s Son: a review
David Meischen’s collection of poems, Anyone’s Son, devotes itself to retrospection. Avowedly autobiographical, the book reveals a life of longing, from the speaker’s childhood lust for TV cowboys like Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood in Rawhide) to his enduring desire for his husband, Scott Wiggerman, whose artwork appears on the cover. A number of the strongest poems revel in Meischen’s desires and pleasures, as well as in his intimacies with friends and lovers and family. But the mood is only occasionally celebratory; somberness pervades the work, “no breath to measure rapture” (26). Meischen mourns being rejected by his father and by the Church, and he does not shy away either from describing his first marriage tenderly and honestly, “one double-X and one XY, among / matched pairs” (49).
Meischen’s is a poetics of juxtaposition. Allure collides with confinement; prose stanzas sometimes press down on delicate tercets; two marriages are set beside each other; and several poems peg the life rendered here to a series of brushes with disaster. “A Spill from the Radio Flyer” is about a “lucky fall” from a scooter, and the poem highlights “the immeasurable divide between the cut that grazes / and the one that blinds” (15). Similarly, “How Close We Come to Unforgiving Surfaces” (27) is a car crash poem where the physical catastrophe spares the poem’s “you”—Meischen again, addressed by an older version of himself. This time, however, his mother’s relief at his emergence “without a scratch” runs into his father’s riposte, “Our boy’s got marks on him.” A lover or prospective lover, another man, was at the wheel, and his distorted voice unknowingly sums up the family via a lyric from the Beatles: “One and / one, and one is three.”
Elsewhere juxtaposition takes other forms, as when Meischen is drawn to “henhouse mutterings” in “The Words Inside,” and the inarticulate chickens become a cipher for longing, “The boy on one / side, this unknowable creature // on the other, his impertinent sashay, / as if winking…” (33). There is a stark contrast, though, between how juxtaposition works in the book’s defining form, the pantoum, and how it works where Meischen employs caesurae and less regular stanzas. “Butterflies Just Out of Reach,” appearing late in the collection, uses the pantoum’s obligatory repetitions to translate “There was no give in Daddy’s love” to “I gave myself no quarter.” Belts, in this poem, are the instruments of punishment, wielded by mothers and fathers alike, although they appeared earlier in the book as proxies for the speaker’s desire: “my hands at a belt buckle, / a zipper tab, fingers itching for the fever // beneath” (35). “Butterflies Just Out of Reach” opens and closes with the promise “I am not here to make you comfortable,” and the pantoum form throughout this book does the uncomfortable work of lifting the obstacles to Meischen’s desired life into view, beside the relative domestic security from which he looks backward (101).
Meischen’s is a poetics of juxtaposition. Allure collides with confinement; prose stanzas sometimes press down on delicate tercets; two marriages are set beside each other; and several poems peg the life rendered here to a series of brushes with disaster.
Meischen’s free verse, though, even when it looks to the past, is set resolutely in a specific moment and place. The juxtaposition occurs not between present and past, reflection and youth, but between impulses that coincide in time. “Creek Scene with DeSoto and Bobwhites” is the sexiest and most affirming poem in the book, and the caesurae make the creek bed visible, flowing down the page and carrying us to where “we stop // the bridge behind us his car behind us / my hands at buckle zipper elastic / his dick free his dick ticking / now-and now-and now-and who will get there / first…” (36). The poem ends, appropriately, with a big Yes and applause.
And yet my favorite poems in the collection unfold in simple couplets. “The Taste of a Man” is serene and direct; “On Waking” captures precisely how morning’s memory of a sexy night tips into the spoiled day ahead if one’s lover must leave; and “Almost” moves in the other direction, from the absolute letdown of expectation denied—paltry snow flurries “Like words that will not // light”—to a freely imagined vision of what might have been: “flakes falling and lifting—florid, fevered—puffs / of cotton to soften agarita’s edges, a gauzy blanket // beneath the bare mesquite” (100). The sonic flow in such lines is a treat, the best and most poetic punctuation to the life story that fitfully unfolds in this book, across Texas and the Southwest. Read Anyone’s Son for these exquisite glimpses of Meischen’s familiar landscapes, physical and emotional, and for its heartfelt confession that sometimes all one can wish for is “you and I, together. Breathing” (109).
REVIEWED BY EZRA DAN FELDMAN
Ezra is the author Habitat of Stones, which won the Patricia Bibby First Book Award. He has published in RHINO, Crazyhorse, Lambda Literary, DIAGRAM, and other venues. He teaches American Literature and Science and Technology Studies at Williams College.