Rodney Wittwer
Red Hen Press ($17.95)

by Ralph Pennel

Gone & Gone, Rodney Wittwer’s debut poetry collection, bears the grace of a poet writing at mid-career. It reminds us all at once that it is impossible to imagine a life free of difficulty, of contradiction, of complication; that our lives would be much less rich if it were possible to live without these challenges; and that in the shallows of acquiescence our lives take shape once and for all. This collection reminds us of these truths with unwavering absolution and certainty.

From poem one, Gone & Gone insists we permit language to reveal us. So we do, relieved of the ecstatic, the sublime, and better for the experience of witnessing the dispossession in the end:

It was true. There was no magic there,
no recovery of the first-seen
first-tasted miracle of love, no crazed
hand-clapping of soul set afire.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From the courtyard he saw her
shadow eclipsing the window;
& he stayed.

There is nothing more powerful than accepting loss on our own terms. We must face not only all that is lost to us, but we must face it without that which we have lost. It is invariably difficult to accept a heart un-atoned, incredulous of its own value to be invaluable, desired even. In “What You Think of Me,” Wittwer reduces our singular gaze, our idealization of love to its absolute essence, its purest dilution:

Each night, she says, each night I peel away
The bandage that held everything seen
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
then I turn into something cold & gradient
like silt from a river bank . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
You know this, she says,
yet you care like an atlas, big.

In this moment, at the poem’s very end, we stand firmly in the speaker’s and the other’s shoes simultaneously, suddenly aware of the strength born of our own limitations, where the quality of our character meets the expectations of those we care for with exacting proportion.

Wittwer never allows his reader the opportunity to rest, relentless in his pursuit of sharing the cathartic truth across the boundaries of time, where we will experience where we were and where we are headed as one, like an embedded shard of glass finally working its way to the surface of the skin. In “My Father’s Hands are Warm,” we relive the moment of the other’s father’s death and the moment of remembering precisely—the way remembering, truly remembering, transports us through both space and time:

Your father held up his head until the very end
then asked for water.
Didn’t finish.
You hold the glass to his forehead,
force the remembering through:
It was cold. It was snowing. It was February.

Gone & Gone both transports and transforms. It forces us to take pause from our every attempt to manifest consciousness into the image we desire the history of our lives to assume. And it succeeds triumphantly in doing so.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2013 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2013