Poetry. If a fallacy is a mistaken belief, why choose to be mistaken, as the title of Edison Jennings' new poetry collection seems to invite? One answer comes in the opening poem, describing the North Star as "not too bright" and yet "glinting like a battered nail / from which the weight of heaven swings, / and nothing holds the nail in place / except the void it's stuck in. / For heaven's sake, old nail, hold tight." Just so, we hold tight to those things that give us comfort, even when there is nothing holding us back. Not that everything here is comforting. Jennings describes the life of working-class Appalachia with unsentimental, clear-eyed respect. "The coal dust settles everywhere" in "Tipple Town," where "Daddy drinks and doesn't care / that mining made his lungs real weak... //...You don't see children anymore / in this exhausted mountain town." And when children are seen, "They're coal town girls with coal town traits, / their hopes long since tapped-out and sold." And this is nothing new: in "Brown-Eyed Girl" Jennings writes of the kinship, deep in DNA, between his "short-lived daughter" (to whom the book is dedicated) and the scant fossil remains of a Denisovan girl whose life was similarly brief. This is what it is to be human. Animals come off better, and he envies his old dog with her buried bone, even if wincing at "her stiff-hipped hobble-and-squat." The "Cats of Rome" are unimpressed by human affairs: "At the axis of the empire, they curl / round Trajan's column, indifferent / to a fault, at home in a falling world." Even his old blind rabbit, aware of coming death, "sleeps long and dreams about it / for it is the truth and he knows its secret." And then there islove, the hope and memory of it. Sleeping on an absent lover's side of the bed, to "smell the sheets where the weave is richest / with your scent." One "wants corruption, / the tumble and toss, the press of flesh, the blush and rush and mess love makes. Most redemptively, there is family. In "James at 7 & 17" he writes of every parent's fear for their children's safety, and yet of the knowledge that there comes the time for letting go: "I watch him dive and disappear / into a wreath of water // until he's birthed again out deep / and far beyond my reach." In another poem he recalls the moment of waking to see "my wife and child, composed into one shape, / gigantic night rebounding through the room / while they lie still, curled on the cusp of sleep, / mouth to breast and filling God with God." Is it a fallacy to hold onto such a belief? Perhaps so—but that is what makes us human, and makes life possible, even in the face of the void.
Edison Jennings lives in the southwestern corner of Virginia and works as a Head Start bus driver. He served thirtenn years active duty in the Navy, and after separation he completed his education and began teaching and writing. His poetry has appeared in several journals and anthologies. He is also the author of three chapbooks, Reckoning, Small Measures, and A Letter to Greta.
Author City: ABINGDON, VA USA