Each Thing Touches
Glass Lyre Press
Reviewer: Richard Allen Taylor
Most poetry collections have a poem near the beginning that gives the reader clues on how to read the book. Each Thing Touches by Chicago poet Marc Frazier has at least two.
The prologue poem, “After,” opens with “I heard corn grow as a child / and now everything is noise”—an arresting passage that zooms us from the author’s childhood to adulthood in a scant two lines. The poem recounts, with the same economy of lines, his progress through life, learning to read and write, and how “When I made my first question mark, I was born.” He looks ahead to his death, asking, “Which film of a building’s collapse / will most resemble mine?” and ends the poem with “How a collage longs for the whole picture.”
By now, the reader will have received the message that Each Thing Touches is not only the book’s title but also its theme. For good measure, Frazier has included, as the second poem in the collection, “Narrative Dysfunction,” which tells us more about how to read the book. “I start anywhere,” he writes. The book tells a story—his story. Frazier warns us to expect that the story will hop around in time and space until, eventually, the “thread in the telling / leads all the way back to me.” In other words, the story itself is a collage of elements that may seem unconnected at first, but ultimately are hot-wired to the author’s life. We see this idea played out through a wide variety of subjects, including poems about love, loss, loneliness, isolation, and family, as well as a few poems based on historical events.
One of my favorites in this collection is “Chicago Hands,” a collage (there’s that word again) of images about hands of various people, and what those hands are doing in the author’s world. In one scene, “Her son rolls a cold beer over his hot forehead”; in another, “she makes the sign of the cross” when the “L” rumbles by. The scene shifts to a man and a woman in a bar: “It’s time for some danger, she sighs, caressing her glass. / She cannot rise to the occasion. // He reaches, her free hand dead on the polished bar.” In a restaurant, a woman “holds an imaginary cigarette to her lips” and the waiter “disappears // through gray doors flapping the missing handclaps.” I can imagine a class discussion on how the author came up with the material for this poem. Yes, Jane, he might have made it all up. Yes, Jimmy, he might have sifted through his journals looking for isolated entries containing the word “hands.” Either way, those “gray doors flapping the missing handclaps” deserve a round of applause.
Frazier writes free verse with little or no use of rhyme or slant rhyme, and without much obvious attention to sonic devices such as assonance and consonance, yet there is a subtle rhythm that rolls through his poems. These poems are a pleasure to hear aloud. Frazier doesn’t count syllables or stresses, doesn’t use aggressive enjambments, and doesn’t group his lines into even stanzas. His lines are, for the most part, complete syntactical units and, often, complete sentences. His “stanza breaks” are more like paragraph breaks, indicating the end of a thought and the beginning of another, as might occur in prose. But these poems are not prose. These are poems by the sheer force of their imagery and emotion, as well as their precise language, which is always as plain or as rich as it needs to be, consistently conveying just the right tone to the reader.
In “Maiden,” a persona poem, Frazier captures the sorrow of a Japanese woman who, after World War II, was one of many who were brought to the US for surgery to correct disfigurement caused by American bombing. After many operations and treatments, she says, “Finally, // I am something they can look at.” But still grieving at the loss of her original face, she ends the poem with, “If I could decide / again, I would not become this.”
Another persona poem is “Surrogate.” The title immediately brings to mind the phrase “surrogate mother,” and that seems to have been Frazier’s intent, as there is talk about protocol and not getting too close to the client. But in the poem, surrogate is a temporary fill-in for Mr. or Ms. Right—a role we have all played, at one time or another. Here’s an excerpt:
I am not permitted to linger
or vary the prescribed progression.
First, light hugging. Repeated over weeks.
Then our first kiss. Again and again.
Later, some caressing of breasts. More.
Why is it so difficult for them?
…I’m not supposed to love them and I don’t.
…If I see one later,
I act as if I do not remember
pretending with my body,
like I’ve never felt hands hoping to love.
Poems about family are grouped together near the middle of the book, and even though Frazier admits in the title poem, “I have lied in poems just to sound good,” (as every poet should), the poems about family resound as authentic. “Child of Alcoholics Watches The Donna Reed Show” struck me as particularly ironic. For younger readers, the show was popular in the 1960s and depicted a supposedly “normal” American family. This short poem is presented in its entirety.
In a clean apron Mrs. Stone explains boys to Mary over a mixing bowl.
Dr. Stone is only a wall away if anyone needs rescuing.
Late at night, the house is quiet.
Everything stays in place.
Even the furniture looks happy.
In the morning, everyone remembers everything.
Mother hands them their carefully creased lunches.
They know just what to do.
In addition to Each Thing Touches, Frazier has published one other full-length collection, The Way Here, and two chapbooks. A recipient of the Illinois Arts Council Award for poetry, he has led many workshops and participated in numerous readings in the Chicago area.