Reviews, Vol. 3.3, Sept. 2009
Sunnyoutside, Sept. 2009
Paperback, 96 pp., $15
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Following his collection, Teaching Metaphors, Nathan Graziano’s sunnyoutside publication After the Honeymoon is a clever, observant exploration of youth and its loss (Part I), alcoholism and addiction (Part II), marriage and its demise (Part III), and parenting (Part IV). Wryly acute, Graziano’s verse finds the patron at the bar on Cinco de Mayo who has a few too many years on him to blend in with the collegiate crowd, the beautiful woman in traffic, the young poet trying to get back at her boyfriend, the quarreling lovers, the reluctant alcoholic, and the young parents in their truest moments of honesty and poignancy.
Graziano has a way of evincing distilled truth from every situation, and in language that feels just right for the moment. Some poems are autobiographical in just the way that such poems are most effective: at an objective remove. In “Cracker and Me,” the poet writes about alcoholism, and about death. It is death without pretension, without artifice (“Everyone walks in graveyards / They intersect / all paths home.”) Poems like “Western Bender” are imaginative and vivid, and constitute what might be the poet’s life if he were “a washed-up stud from a Western movie.” The poem contains moments of magnificent honesty that are seemingly completely devoid of self-pity. They are, at the same time, self-ironic, as with “Roadside Ballet,” in which the drunken driver is pulled over, and walks the straight line, somehow. Others, like “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” poignantly give over the fight against alcoholism and the internal struggle, in the form of a poem. The language of the poem is pure in an emotionally distilled sense:
Don’t let the darkness dim in the windshield.
It’s always a stone’s toss from your teeth
Instead of breathing free, you bargain for breath
While your ribs break beneath the weight of worry.
Don’t stop to bow after nine steps. Scream.
Such poems, and others, like “A Song for Cracker and Me,” evoke radiance in unexpected places (“Your eyelids were squeezed shut, / tombstones on top of brilliant thoughts.”)
The poems on marriage are ripe with the poet’s special brand of wry humor and are treatises, sometimes, on how marriages break. “Fight on the Fourth” and “Candlelight” are two such examples, fights and affairs rending vows asunder. There are tender moments, too, especially in poems about fatherhood and parenting. “My Daughter’s Eyes” is a humble love letter from a father to his child, its lines devoid of self-pity:
For the first time
what people mean
when they say
she looks like me.
It’s mostly in the eyes.
I look closer,
and sure enough,
see myself at a time
made me ugly.
Others, like “Two Girls in a Tub Together,” exhibit a rare tenderness. “Tom and Jerry and Tim” are fine examples of Graziano’s knack for applying poignant cynicism to parenthood, all to wry effect.
The collection as a whole is resolute with strength and honesty. Even in poems like “What’s for Dinner?” where all that is left are the remnants of a happiness, a courage and tenacity shine through, and the book ends on a note of fortitude. Regardless of all that has gone before, the poet seems to say, there is the will to do the right thing, to stand by those you love, and let them provide the motivation to accomplish the rest.