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Review: Darkness on the Face of the Deep Poetry Collection Takes Risks with Emotional Depths

Darkness on the face of the abyss
by Patrick T. Reardon
Kelsay Books

Reviewed by Renny Golden

In Darkness on the face of the abyss, The poems of Third Coast Review writer Patrick T. Reardon grapple with the depths, our own. His poems take us on Job’s journey. There are writers who risk such avenues: Franz Wright, Rilke, Mary Karr and Patrick Kavanaugh, for example. But few dare such vulnerability for fear of getting lost in the struggle with their own inner doubts and demons. Anyway, Reardon is going.

We drive with him on the Chicago L, past Brownsville, Canaryville and Hegewisch, with stops at the Purgatory, Ascension and Epiphany stations. Patrick Reardon searches for a God who is absent and everywhere. His imagination is surprising, for he does not want to accept any response to suffering, yet his the questions, so irreverent, so marked and courageous and tender, invite us to explore Ecclesiasticus and Leviticus Road. When it’s too much, he makes us laugh. His “Communion of Saints” is all of us, but especially the miserable Chicagoans: drunks, punks, street workers, street musicians, rockers, runaways, vets in dirty blankets huddled under Wacker Drive. Saints and sinners are indistinguishable, which is good theology and wacky poetry.

“City Hymn” begins with a tribute

to sewer pipes… up to six apartments, courtyard buildings / bungalow ring, forest reserve glade / lagoon foam / delicate fox through gravestones.

In the middle is a boy who look at the curve of the earth / the reflection of the morning in broken glass / the dog poop alleys / the grid lines of the street going away / leading to a puzzle and more puzzle. The long hymn to Chicago is that of Riordan untranslatable writing / the word at the beginning and at the end.

In “Prairie Melancholy” he wears

my route / map, thirty silver coins, brown McDonald’s / napkins, an ocean of worn Jewish shoes, a single Marlboro, my brother’s weapon, a Tower / dust envelope, a new translation of the Book of Job, my / burdens, my saliva in the mud, / silent howl amid the clatter / blood, sap and debris of the Big Bang.

Reardon cannot cope with the suicide of his beloved brother or, for that matter, the anguish of the persecuted and abandoned. Poems are a howl, a prayer to accept all that is. It is not a Buddhist prayer, it is fierce, demanding, compassionate, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sacred. Here is his redemptive story in the poem “Itch”:

Thrones and / rulers fell / fell asleep to their angel / duty and the Son / escaped to one side /

door to go bowling / with the blind man / weightlifter and the / hip-hop doorman, a / radical trinity, if /

there has never been one.

There are angels everywhere and like the saints and sinners of Chicago, they are grieved but do not look away.

Angels fly over complex diagrams / on the drunken anesthesiologist and the beautiful child./

The angels are out tonight / The boy cradles his body to the right and to the left / to sleep / while the angels whisper green forests in his ear / not to mention the future gun / a charity …

These angels, whoever they are, sing gospel songs / and blues anthems / and country and western anthems / and Ubi caritas. The meaning of Reardon’s entanglement is either his reading of the new science or his refusal to accept the confines of apartheid Chicago neighborhoods. or both. He is thoroughly with everyone. It is rare to read a contemplative poet whose inner compass, demanding and complex, sends him again and again to the world, to the forgotten or the foolish of Chicago, whom he considers to be brothers and sisters. It is a beautiful book.

Darkness on the face of the abyss is available from the publisher.

Renny Golden, author of The music of its rivers, University of New Mexico Press, finalist for the New Mexico Book Award and Blood desert, winner of the WILLA literary prize for poetry, named Southwest Book of the Year.

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