The poems in Charles W. Brice’s latest collection, An Accident of Blood, are heavily autobiographical and portray a sobering mix of strength and fragility.
The collection, presented in four sections, kicks off with poems focussed on the experience of growing up. The opening poem, The Fishes, is about keeping secrets, being in a gang, and being thrown out of a gang for not keeping the secret. The way this poem is delivered perfectly captures the young boys’ spirit, allowing readers to imagine similar antics from their own lives:
Okay, Joe said, you can join.
Great, I said, what’s it called.
The Fishes, Joe said,
but that’s a secret.
You can’t ever tell anyone
the name of our club.
Do you swear never to tell?
Yes, I said.
Then Joe taught me the handshake.
Olfactory senses are stirred in The Smell of Home in Wyoming with reminiscences of feeding a horse an oatcake, how to approach it from behind, and the smell of the barn: Warm horse fragrance, creek of leather / saddle, breath mist before us— / a synesthetic blast of beauty.
It is easy to empathise with poems that relate to the effect of his growing up with an alcoholic father, for example in the poem, Deal Me In, which relates the despair of how his father’s gambling debts all-but wiped out his mother’s household savings:
During a night of failure-to-grow-up
daddy, drunk and deluded, sat with hoodlums
at a poker table and said, “Deal me in.”
Leukemia is a particularly powerful poem of lives and deaths, in which the sister of his best friend dies yet he survives, and the death of his dog, ‘the same morning that my dad, / rumpled and red-eyed, arrived / home after a night of drinking and whoring.’ The statement, ‘I lived.’ separating the death of his friend and that of his dog, says all that needs to be said but the poem isn’t done yet … ‘He mocked my cries rather than face his embarrassment. / He made fun of my grief while my mother / railed at him for his drunken infidelity. / I knew then that, / in the family I called mine, / there was no place for me, / no place for me on this earth.’
The intensity of the personal poems eases up with a scattering of more whimsical subject matter. In The First Time, the title hoodwinking the reader into expecting a poem about loss of virginity, is rewarded with a poem about the creation of a perfect Italian pasta sauce — rhyme augmenting the lines like herbs enriching the sauce.
Was his name Luigi, or Antonio, or Amedio—
who first threw garlic into olive oil? Did
he slice it thin, inhale its pungent fragrance
on his thumb and think, maybe a little oil?
Did Maria, or Beatrice, or Sofia, one of his
lovers, dip a soft digit into the mix, exude bliss,
kiss his lips, prance the room, dance and swoon?
There are four ekphrastic poems that take inspiration from famous artworks. The Land of Cockaigne is a wonderfully succinct example, after the 1567 painting of the same name by Peter Bruegel the Elder. Cockaigne, being a mythical land of plenty, the brevity of the poem perfectly captures Bruegel’s unflattering imagery. The ten-line poem includes the observance that, ‘Memory and desire silence / the squeals of the slaughtered— / never spoil our appetites’. In a manner akin to the cow that approaches the table in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, urging diners to enjoy, “Something off the shoulder perhaps … braised in a white wine sauce?”, in Brice’s version of Cockaigne, ‘Even boars come / with knives attached.’
Pork Chops in Raspberry Vinegar Reduction is a decidedly insightful take on the ingredients for a successful relationship. Beginning with the sprinkling of herbs over two thick pork chops dredged in olive oil:
Let them marinate for an hour or two.
Tell him it takes many ingredients and time
to make a relationship work.
… continuing with:
While the chops are browning
marry a quarter cup of water
to a quarter cup of raspberry vinegar.
Tell him that the recipe for a good relationship
means always putting the relationship first
before the wise culmination:
Serve immediately. Tell him that
nothing of importance can be solved
after 11 PM. Always kiss each other goodnight,
you might not get another chance.
The politically-charged Section III features poems addressing topics including the Vietnam war, Hilary Clinton and, in the craftily-titled poem, The Trumpet Shall Sound, the Trumps.
Melania appears in stiletto heels,
Hurricane or not, you can still make deals.
Commerce revolves on a gigantic wheel,
And Trump sits atop it.
Charlie Brice is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood(2019), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Sunlight Press, Chiron Review, Plainsongs, I-70 Review, Mudfish 12, The Paterson Literary Review,and elsewhere.