August 2004

Laura Felch

poetry

Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest by B. H. Fairchild

In Early Occult Memory System of the Lower Midwest, B.H. Fairchild holds his readers in constant tension between past and present, memories and imaginings, laughter and melancholy. His poems seem natural, as if the printed poems sprang written from his skull, neither manipulated nor constructed. He finds beauty -- no, he redefines beauty. Beauty loses the bitter taint of skinny 14-year-old girls who long for the unattainable perfection and finds itself in baseball, Jesus freaks, and Kansas. In “Moses Yellowhorse Is Throwing Water Balloons from the Hotel Roosevelt,” Fairchild transforms a drunken Native American baseball player into a god and then a man, and baseball into a mythology:

…baseball is
a question of neither beauty not politics
but rather mythology, the collective dream,
the old dream, of men becoming gods
or at the very least, as they remove
their wings, they become men.

Perhaps best word to describe this collection is not beauty, but precision. Words fitted together snugly and accurately; words that can “hold time” and describe “that night” and “that blue” and “this world” rather than being generalities. “The Potato Eaters” gathers its cast of characters -- “the welder, the machinist, the foreman, / the apprentice” -- and sets its scene -- “The sun ruffling/the horizon of wheat fields lifts their gigantic shadows/up over the lathes that stand momentarily still and immense.” With the picture painted, we build tension, the moment freezes, the narrator hesitates:

There is something in the droop of the men’s sleeves
And the heavy underwater movements of their arms and hands
That suggests that they are a dream and I am the dreamer,
Even though I am there, too.

The unmoving pictures releases as the men “give themselves to the pleasure of food.” The boy narrator hears the words “life, my life” and, being young, does not know what life means but he senses it in these men and their “half-eaten potatoes.” In these words, Fairchild describes his own work which gives the reader a sense of having learned without the confines of intellectual structure.

If these descriptors don't suit you, let us look to the text. Good poetry
and Early Occult Memory System of the Lower Midwest is simply,
precisely, and beautifully “something that might be…some form, some rare,
lucky version / of human happiness”.

Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest: Poems by B. H. Fairchild
W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 0393050963
128 pages