From the Spring 2015 Issue of Hartskill Review:
Watching the Perseids
Sacramento Poetry Center Press [winner of the 2013 SPC Press Book Award]
Watching the Perseids is a thoughtful collection of reflective poems Myers writes in response to his father’s decline and passing from a brain tumor. In the first half of the collection, the father is disappearing, heading further into decline, following a path that will take him inevitably and irrevocably out of his son’s life. Part of the tragedy of this deterioration, Myers shows us, is how this deterioration occurs in both body and mind. In some poems, the body is giving out and winding down while the will is still strong. As the first section continues, however, the father slowly loses his mental capacities, the ability to put his will into action. Metaphors of decay are balanced by examples of desire that persist but no longer have a vehicle. In “Who He Is,” for instance, Myers talks about how his father wants to “climb out of bed, drive if he could”:
His thinned-out eyebrows rise, those
of a kid with an appetite taking in
the shine of a succulent world, giving us
his wishfulness, looking ahead
at the time of his life, every bit who he is. (25)
Though they are “thinned-out,” his eyebrows can still express his spirit, his “appetite” for the things of the world. For Myers, the “wishfulness” of the will is more important than physical health. He is willing to concede the degeneration of his father’s body (“Let his bones crumble, his immunity / lose its edge”), but he prays for the ineffable quality of his father’s spirit, his appetite, to go on. More than anything, it is “who he is.” The collection, however, is haunted by the problem of inevitability. Myers knows that his father will pass away, and his father’s strong spirit and personality will fade. In a poem like “No IVs in Hospice,” his father needs to keep his body hydrated but cannot stop drinking Diet Coke rather than water:
No IVs in Hospice. He sips
the Diet Coke he loves from a straw
we place between parched lips.
But his thirst is almost lost.
Hunger’s gone. (42)
His thirst and hunger dwindle, and the distinctive drive that makes him who he is begins to fail, misapplied in its direction.
In the second half of the collection, called “Since,” the father has passed away. But paradoxically he begins to appear in much more dramatic ways. In fact, if the first half chronicles the father’s disappearance, the second registers his reemergence in the poet’s ongoing psychical life. In “First Days,” his father’s smile appears “off to my left and above / the shoulders of consoling guests” (52); in “My Body Decides,” the sigh from his chest is “the weightless part of me / [that] tries to rise, to reach // the part of him that didn’t die” (60); and in “Far from His Bed,” the poet moves off through the world after his father’s passing – to New Zealand – but he goes on these travels with his father’s songs in his head. In each of these cases, his father transcends death and plays a dynamic role in the poet’s imaginative life.
Myers employs a clear and direct voice intent on conveying cohesive and believable emotion. His clarity, however, masks a subtle attention to sound, adding richness to many of the poems. In the following quotation, for instance, he displays his careful craftsmanship:
Memory’s the thing. The fish
hooked on the end of that string, hoisted
high, a live iridescent
disc, perplexed eye on each side—
it hung like a lone wind chime… (37)
Several techniques give this verse paragraph a sonic cohesiveness: the interior rhyme of “thing” and “string”; the assonance of “high” and “live” and “eye” and “side”; the alliteration of “hooked,” “hoisted,” and “high.” It is rewarding to read the poems closely and realize how attuned they are to the musicality of language.
Watching the Perseids is a tender but realistic portrait of a difficult life transition. Myers contemplates who his father was and how lasting and meaningful his father’s legacy is in his own life.
-Reviewed by Joshua Hjalmer Lind