GOODBYE TO THE ORCHARD
$20.95 Cloth ISBN 1-932511-04-0
$13.95 Paper ISBN 1-932511-05-9
The Harvard Review asserts that Steven Cramer has a pagan core to his poetry, a sense that this world is the only one. This, his fourth volume of poetry, explores disparate angles toward such a world. Two poems on the slow death of his sister from stomach cancer pull you like few others. In one, he uses the image of a boat, shrinking in the distance to a glimmering dot, then doubling back and docking near shore, the sun a glare, yet milder/than the glare of hospice light she peered through,/the month my sister barely ate or drank. And then their speculation on death, that Maybe it s just a better childhood
Most painful of all is their walk in the hills, and her request to Scatter me anywhere around here. Then the zero-sum conclusion that this is all we have:
as if across a February
heath, feet testing for ice
with each new step along
the hardening ground, wind
bending the treetops so distant
they register at first as smoke.
Goodbye to the Orchard forms a rough, often cynical attitude toward human nature and nature, the vicissitudes of life, the academic s tenure of the mind, and a twist on the old theme of groves cut down by our religious ancestors, now casinos strangely rigged with tables in our favor.
Goodbye to the orchard: green
one day, the next day blood.
This new spin on
Behind the cypresses, the ponies
keep their distance. They bite and kick
when someone tries to feed them.
I come here when I want to feel
a little less like dying.
More than this, what Cramer overhears his small child say is something that only the child s own words can best describe: last night/I didn t dream one dream. It was just black.
Perhaps the best piece in this selection is Cramer s rendering of the Anglo-Saxon poem Deor. He speaks of the wolf s mind, how it will force misery on misery, make cowards heroes; how courtiers, who want kingdoms overthrown but fail to speak will remain courtiers; how a woman dreaded the child inside her and dreamed of drowning; and the hopeful reality of fatalism and living out this life in fine pursuit:
At first doom sees, wherever it turns,
more doom. Then, in time: joy.
I ll say this about myself: my name
was a name you knew, and I sang
until another singer took my place.