42 Miles Press
In “Nineteen Forty,” Allan Peterson’s speaker declares, “Terrible things began with me.” What a stunning and honest opening line. This realization unfolds as the speaker forges on through the poems of this book. Peterson’s concerns about the self are beautiful as in “Easy Believers:” Last night tried to accentuate the stars / by staying darker than usual / the dark of the body inside the body / onyx as Satan’s crows.” I originally read the opening line through the speaker’s point of view—I tried to accentuate the stars—because I expected Peterson’s understanding of darkness to be entirely internal, especially reconsidering the first line of the book. The shift in attention to night itself, then, proves not only Peterson’s speaker’s interest in the outside world, but that speaker’s ability to see the self in every part of the outside world.
Peterson’s speaker is also taken by the outside world in “Entrance,” but this poem is a unique experience in that the speaker sees a broken flagstone and other objects as entrances to the underworld:
I enter I am welcomed by the emissary mole
and the rich aroma of free will and worms
I move a stone and see the curled grub
that must be that to be the beautiful beetle
and over me the hawk whose short wings fit
between trees examines the hot grasses
whose lives are brush strokes hiding field mice
The images contradict the expected connotation of the word “underworld.” Instead of hell, the reader sees the world that is under that natural world, which is an extension of the nature we already understand and find extraordinary. These are the discoveries that shine in Precarious. Peterson’s speaker is again humbled and amazed in “A Simple Thing:” “I look up from this line and a doe / is standing before me an empty space / only two words ago.” While this frank discussion of one’s own writing can be trite, Peterson’s is earned when he offers this final observation: “It is a simple thing to lose the universe / an eyelid will do.” Precarious offers this lesson to the reader. Our perception of the universe is entirely our own control through a layer of tissue as thin as an eyelid. This may be why Peterson chose to title his collection Precarious—how simultaneously frightening and thrilling it is to be in charge of how the world appears to someone, particularly your own fragile self.
Other poems that stand out are “Proof” and “Solve for X,” both showing Peterson’s range and diversity of subject matter. Surely Peterson’s speaker’s fascination with this overwhelming world leads to these worries in “Proof:” “Isn’t it also the number of cars on global roads that put end to end / would go X times to the moon and back or equal the weight / of springtails and grubs under and acre of anywhere in Iowa.” In “Solve for X,” Peterson continues to ponder the unknown: “x the unknown about which we know nothing, / but suspect: x on the eyes for knocked out, / innocence protected by the x of anonymity.” As Peterson tells us in the final line of the book, “This is not the last word on the subject.” We aren’t supposed to stop with these poems in a search for answers, and Peterson’s work is a loyal guide in this direction.
Sarah Dravec is a poet in the NEOMFA. She is a poetry editor for Barn Owl Review and an associate editor for Whiskey Island. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bone Bouquet, Gone Lawn, Phantom Limb, Squalorly, and others.
Also by Sarah Dravec:
Review of Interrobang by Jessica Piazza
Review of The Bottom by Betsy Andrews
Review of Any Anxious Body by Chrissy Kolaya
Review of My Funeral Gondola by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Review of The Forever Notes by Ethel Rackin
Review of Glass Armonica by Rebecca Dunham
Review of Vivarium by Natasha Sajé
Review of Phrasebook for the Pleiades by Lorraine Doran