Ultra Deep Field
Brick Road Poetry Press
Reviewer: Richard Allen Taylor
Ace Boggess is a poet who can circle a campfire, pause at each of the main points of the compass, gaze at the fire, and deliver a different but compelling image from each angle—while keeping the reader engaged and interested through the entire circuit. This ability to approach a subject from multiple sides, and to do so coherently, is aptly illustrated in “Ask Away,” the lead-off poem in Boggess’s new collection, Ultra Deep Field:
ask me about the radiant hat
moon makes for that cloud face an hour before dawn
ask me about sitting on gravel staring through a
waiting like a godless monk for my mother to arrive
ask me about fidelity whether high or in-
how bodies in darkness cling to forgotten music
Most poetry collections have at least one “keystone” poem that signals the author’s intention for the book. “Ask Away” seems to say, “ask me anything, I’ll answer; this is a book about everything.” The title poem, “Ultra Deep Field” (quoted below), also serves as a keystone. It seems to say, “no subject too large or too small.” Or too mysterious.
The title itself is derived from a photograph, “Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014,” which serves as the background for the book’s cover. In the black sky, as seen through the Hubble telescope, hundreds of lights of all shapes and colors shine, as if someone had spilled an assortment of hammer-smashed hard candies on a dark drop cloth:
what appear to be stars are galaxies so distant
no one thought to look
so much to measure in these shaded fascinations
wherever the Artist scattered paint
polishing a long lens more delicate than skin
the Franciscan nods as he announces “I don’t know”
the human answer not the holiest: “don’t know”
he says to questions about life destruction some space-
booted intergalactic one true God “I don’t know”
his light heart full with unseen matter
The epigraph of this poem reads, “Whenever we don’t understand something, we call it dark”—a quote attributed to Father Corbally, a prominent research astronomer with the Vatican Observatory. Who better than a Man of God/Man of Science to remind us that the more we learn, the more we find that we don’t know. When I was a teenager, we had no idea that Jupiter had sixty-seven moons, and possibly more that we haven’t found yet. I didn’t learn about dark matter and dark energy until much later. Hubble has unlocked a vast storehouse of secrets of the universe, but with each secret comes a million questions. Hubble sees clear across the “known” universe, but still we cannot see clearly all the galaxies scattered in the human heart. “Mysteries of the heart” is, of course, culture-speak, harking back to a time when the heart was considered the seat of all human emotions. “Mysteries of the human mind” is what we really mean, and Boggess tantalizes us with those mysteries. His poems are full of them.
“The Late Pablo Neruda” revisits the unsolved mystery of how Neruda died. The Chilean poet, winner of the Nobel Prize, was also a member of the Communist Party, a diplomat and senator, and an opponent of Augusto Pinochet, who led a brutal military coup in 1973 to save Chile from Communism (and to install himself as dictator). Within a few days after being hospitalized for cancer treatments, Neruda complained that someone associated with Pinochet had injected him with a poison. He died a few hours later. The Chilean government had Neruda’s body exhumed in 2013 and found traces of a toxic bacteria in his remains. The investigation is still in progress, with final results expected in 2018.
they dig him up because his silence
booms as loudly as the shells of Pinochet
. . .
[they] wait to fill again the world with language
through old soil the diggers as they hope exhume
a last song for Maltilde & the sea that moved him
or a psalm of protest denouncing those who fail
to note distinctions between tanks & temple bells
Interesting poem. Boggess renounces murder and violence. He does not go so far as to embrace Neruda’s politics, but laments his death and the great loss to the literary world. And who’s “Maltilde?” A small mystery, but a mystery nevertheless. Boggess may be referring to Matilde Casazola, the Bolivian poet and songwriter, a contemporary of Neruda.
A middle-aged man, Boggess has been writing and publishing poems for many years, but his style in this collection is relatively new. The unrhymed couplets, sentence fragments, aggressive (and often jolting) enjambments, and meager punctuation comprise a writing style developed and refined during his incarceration in a state penitentiary. For how long, and for what crimes, we don’t know, based on what we find in this collection, but there are references to past troubles with substance abuse, which may have led—directly or indirectly—to his imprisonment. Now free and clean, Boggess celebrates his resurrected life with “The Test”:
into a cup I pour my admission of innocence
. . .
it tells me not that I can do no wrong
but that wrongs I’ve done are done with
for at least this pause this sighing hallelujah
I walk without daggers in my eyes
without regrets without new ones anyhow
the golden mead this liquor of sobriety
For a book that examines all matters great and small, poems about freedom and overcoming addiction fall into the “great” category. In matters small, one of my favorites is “Butterfingers,” a poem that begins with “the whir of its rolling like a bowling ball.” We don’t know at first what is rolling, but later discover that a “clumsy squirrel” has dropped a crabapple on the roof, or, as more colorfully expressed in the poem, “left his baggage on a southbound train.”
A varied collection that addresses serious subjects with grace and lighter subjects with wry humor, Ultra Deep Field earns a place of honor on any poetry lover’s bookshelf.