Poetry Review: “At Thomas Merton’s Grave” by Spenser Reese

Spenser_Reese_PoemsThere are many excellent sources for finding new poems and poets on the web. One of my favorite sites, and a frequent stop for me, is the Poetry magazine website. That is where I found this poem by Spenser Reese.

Googling Reese,  I was un-surprised to discover that he had studied theology. From this poem I would have guessed as much… indeed, I would have been surprised to find that he had not. It is, after all, a religious poem written by one with enough sense and background to take the themes raised seriously.

It is a fine poem with the exception of one line, one metaphor that I do not particularly like:”little milky crosses grow like teeth”. I think if he could rework this one line, it would would be a much better poem… at least to me.

Metaphors and similes are one of the basic “tools of the trade” to poets. They can be familiar, novel, complicated, simple, extended, direct, or some combination of all of those things. But in end they need to convey, as exactly as possible, what it is the poet is trying to convey… NOT detract from it.

While I do not wholly subscribe to Eliot’s notion of the objective correlative, I believe that there does exist for words, symbols, metaphors, and phrases a duplexity of meanings that really do need to be respected. That is to say, some words and metaphors should never, ever be placed together because the weight and freight of their many meanings can not co-exist by definition. I would respectfully submit that the three words “milk, crosses, and teeth” are three such words. Putting them together in a clumsy, unworkable metaphor disfigures an otherwise fine poem. But, to quote Dennis Miller, “Then again… I could be wrong.”


At Thomas Merton’s Grave
We can never be with loss too long.
Behind the warped door that sticks,
the wood thrush calls to the monks,
pausing upon the stone crucifix,
singing: “I am marvelous alone!”
Thrash, thrash goes the hayfield:
rows of marrow and bone undone.
The horizon’s flashing fastens tight,
sealing the blue hills with vermilion.
Moss dyes a squirrel’s skull green.
The cemetery expands its borders—
little milky crosses grow like teeth.
How kind time is, altering space
so nothing stays wrong; and light,
more new light, always arrives.

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