Patrick Ryan Frank
Four Way Books, 2012. Poetry.
Review by Debrah Lechner
The portraits of the losers that Patrick Ryan Frank paints in this award-winning book of poetry from Four Way Books are remarkable for how familiar they are, even when the people that populate them are unlike any the reader has met.
What they've lost is familiar, too: sometimes a person, such as the lost child that reappears only through Frank's poetry, as in "Missing Person Photograph;" sometimes an opportunity, as in "The Third-Place Contestant Answers the Questions That Were Not Asked." Frequently the loss is of life. "Emilie Buried" memorializes a woman with a dare-devil streak who allows herself to be buried for three days and then resurrected to the music of a band and applause. She marries, later on, and conceals her dangerous former occupation from her children:
only when the kids were grown and past adventure
did she pull out the clippings of herself
flying with Alligator Jim, swimming
around Manhattan, being buried alive.
even through those years
of having kids and housework, she kept a bit
of that blackness in her body, boxed inside
her aging heart, both memory and promise.
And when, at ninety-eight, after all
those quiet decades, she faced again that depth,
going slowly down, she saw a girl
rising up to meet her, slim and pretty
in a cotton dress, singing beneath her breath.
"Emily Buried" was written for Emilie Neumann Muse, January 14, 1908 – January 26, 2006. Frank writes of other historical personas too, including Jane Mansfield and Juan Peron, former president of Argentina. He also explores a number of phobias, too, including homophobia, considered with empathy in several poems, and the fear of rape in "Virginitiphobia," in this reversal of the persons that might be expected to suffer from it:
She waited for them to touch the hem of her skirt
but they were scared and it was cold out there.
She arched her back and held her breath,
eyes closed, but they kept saying them were sorry.
She told them to shut the fuck up, and if
they started to cry, she'd kill them and take the truck
and nobody in town would ever know.
But perhaps this poem of pure imagination is one of the most heart-stopping. "What I Want From the World":
On some bright beach in Hawaii
in some dim year of the past
one leper in love with another
says, Take my hand. That's all—
sweet joke or two, quick touch,
an elegy on a postcard.
Not much, no more than moments
of luck in a luckless life,
of trouble beautifully lit.
So let the lepers think
that the numbness of their lips
is love. Let the sharks
be far and slow. Let
nobody see their bodies
as they run into the sea
with the sun in tatters on
the water, with laughter, a wind
through palms that sounds like please.
Patrick Ryan Frank is a poet of noteworthy talent, whose poetry is affecting, and impossible to forget. How the Losers Love What's Lost is an important collection and a brilliant accomplishment.