Patrick Carrington

Codhill Press

Three kinds of thirst punctuate Patrick Carrington's aptly-titled chapbook, winner of the Codhill Poetry Chapbook Prize for 2006: the need for something spiritual rather than religious, the craving for a love that's disappeared, and the quest to make sense of either experience through an always engaging sense of wordplay. (Thirst isn't Carrington's debut; a full-length collection, Rise, Fall and Acceptance, is also available). Carrington's poems, when they employ at least two of these themes at the same time, are energetic, engaging, able to penetrate deeply a given moment, especially when his subject remains personal. “Learning History in Nursing School ,” which details a father watching his young son finger paint on a rainy afternoon, opens the collection. In his son's ordinary artwork, the speaker, who watches through the rain-streaked windows of a classroom, discovers something he can count on, and watches the world around him suddenly transform:

He didn't repeat the world's mistakes.

He made the sun yellow, the sky as blue
as a new boy. He was giving
the stick figures smiles and beach balls
just as a rainbow climbed into the mist
over the huge clock on city hall.
It was as blurry as puddled gasoline.
The sky was copying him, siphoning
off the street some long forgotten oils.

Perhaps the chapbook's finest poem, “The Smoke of St. Anthony,” which combines all three themes as the poem mounts toward the lyric moment, mourns the loss of an unnamed beloved. As the speaker lights candles with his final match, he slips into memory:

I called her name,
louder than I meant to. I heard it echo
in the rafters. The roof was higher
than her uncle's tobacco barn
where we lit our first cigarette,
where she always went to disappear
as quiet as a prayer.

I lit candle from candle, until the smoke
was thick. I just can't shake the hope
or kick the habit, the notion
she might be hiding up there,
waiting for me, swinging
her legs from the crossbeams.

“The Smoke of St. Anthony's” stuns, particularly with Carrington's ability to juggle the personal and the spiritual, the wounds and the comic relief, the end and the beginning, and to do it all at once. Other poems less personal still ponder similar themes: In “Bon Voyage at 8 th St. Station,” the speaker watches travelers departing:

The car park
empties and there he is, enough
reasonable doubt on his face
to hang a jury.

In moments like this, of course, we sense the speaker projecting. But not in a bad way, not when he sums up the relationships of strangers in just the smallest gestures when he later wonders how “strange” it is that “it all / come[s] down to a tiny hand / waving from a shrinking window.” Only two or three poems miss the mark, and the rest (like those mentioned here) make Carrington a poet whose work one looks forward to reading, both now and in the future.

--Jay Robinson