City Lights Books ($15.95)
by David Nilsen
David Brazil’s new poetry collection Holy Ghost expresses the ideological cacophony of our times and juxtaposes it against the simplicity of human need. Brazil drops Christian spirituality, progressive politics, and a yearning for human connection into a poetic blender and leaves the output a bit jumbled on the page. His thoughts here are like a spray of machine gun fire—chaotic, at times indiscriminate, but impossible to ignore.
He begins the collection in a state of sacred repose in “Prayer,” issuing a litany for friends and inspirations lost; Phillis Wheatley beside Elliott Smith, Shulamith Firestone beside Lou Reed. He ends this with a poignant personal reflection and plea for a recognition of commonality:
Prayer for your soul & my soul & the souls of everyone
we know and love between us,
prayers for all the liberators and
prayers for those in need of liberation,
we are the same people.
Prayer for the soul of David Brazil.
“Prayer” sets the emotional tone for the book, though its earnest, direct approach is rarely revisited. In the hectic scattershot of the following pages, Brazil’s language vacillates between collaged word images that often only hint at meaning and poems that mimic the faith-based verses and hymns of another century, almost precious in their neat rhymes and steady rhythms. The former give the disorienting impression of tuning into the broadcast of public liberal discourse, a million answers to the question “What does our society need?” and not one solution. Brazil’s indictment of these talking points is found within the tonal fuzz of his language, the way true human connection is blockaded by sloganeering and peace is drowned under well-intentioned noise. Within this distortion—in which occasional misspellings are allowed to sit, as if highlighting the shameless and unrevised opinionating of the internet—moments of sincere searching and yearning can be found, brief clippings of truth.
In “The Doctrine of the Symbol,” Brazil seems to hint at these buried moments, using them as a cypher for the same searching we must do to find moments of sanctuary in our violent world:
But having sifted up from the woe a grain of remembrance,
temples can be made in any place, to
aid us through the strait.
I’m not the first one to have noticed this,
but you have to look hard amidst all the rubbishes.
Throughout the book are poems by or about the Holy Ghost, or perhaps the “Holy Ghost,” as one gathers this entity is more than a member of the Christian trinity in Brazil’s usage. The Holy Ghost here is human conscience, the better angels of our nature, or, as the poet states plainly toward the end of the book, “the healing force of the universe.” These poems are the ground on which Brazil wrestles his angel, both the heavenly and the human. He loves people and loves God, and is baffled by the impish lack of cooperation both display. In “Holy Ghost Grant,” he writes,
Who dispenses healing from
the folds of hir garment with
is times, the verry syrups yall
cant gather otherwise than incarnation
Humanity is broken, but what we’ve been given—or given the opportunity for, if only we can put ourselves aside to see it—can only be received in this corporeal, temporal state of flaw. In “Thirty-Six,” Brazil writes,
I’m asking you if you have
likewise felt this way and
what you did with it, with sun, with
smoke and human form, to what use then
your most colossal breakfast or these
words you learned your whole life long,
if not to save at last one human soul or
thousands by the echoes that
resound in them from logos always working in
our dormancies . . .
What have you done with sun and smoke and human form? Have you saved one life, made one connection, rescued anyone—yourself included—from the wage-lords, the corporatized identity dealers, the militarized security-peddlers, the billboard preachers leasing personhood with easy monthly payments? Or have you chosen, as Brazil writes in “About the Rainbow Body,” to become
a cop blockading Gill Tract,
defending property against need, quite an action to be
spending your human life doing
Holy Ghost is a songbook of anti-classist marches, a ratatat book of hours for the disenfranchised, but it doesn’t offer its comforts easily, or with easily-quotable snippets. There is digging to be done here to unearth the fragile temple in the rubbish of incarnation.