North American Stadiums

 
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North American Stadiums by Grady Chambers
Milkweed Editions, 2018.  112 pp.
Reviewed by Ralph Hamilton


I wanted the blaze of the unmuffled
trumpet, the spin song of the laundromat, a little of the hurricane’s

Guernica remembered in the streeted leaves, in the blooms
of glass from kids breaking fluorescent

light tubes in the spent vocabulary
of an asphalt parking lot.

    (“Syracuse, October”)

 

If you ever longed for some greater meaning, yearned for some inexplicable but palpable transcendence; if you valued your family and friends, the deep roots of your childhood, as well as lovers past and present, yet remained painfully aware of ways you had failed to fully honor your obligations; if you had the courage, the intellectual and emotional vigor, to question your dreams, your prowess and privilege, your purpose, even as you delighted in the majesty of the landscape and people you’d encountered, in the beauty of skilled hands at work and on the ball field; 

 

We are kneeling
in the leaves, Jacob.
I am muddying my knees
beside you.
We are seventeen.
Your mother’s death
between us
like a stone.

(“Jackknife”)

 

if you knew bone-deep you were not just you, alone, an isolated self-creating “I”, but that in addition to your individual story, your upbringing and genes, your particular loves and losses, you were also part of a time and place, part of a larger geography, connected to a larger national history; if stories of the Erie Canal, of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, of Forbes Field, the steel mills of South Chicago, your mother’s involvement with civil protest, and the suffering of Black Americans in jail cells were all part of your psychic patrimony; 

 

It is before Duluth.
It is after Jerusalem.  It is four
right hands held outward
as in the stones limbs of lepers extending
toward the saint at the base of the shrine
at St. Mary’s.  It is before Toledo.
It is after Sodom.

(“The Syracuse Poem”)

 

further, if you were steeped in American literature’s restless saints, in Kerouac and Whitman, in Levis and Levine, in Ferlinghetti, and Thoreau, no less than in Chicago blues and civil rights hymns, in the vistas of Sandburg and Stegner; 

 

The sky like the longest letter ever written
never sent—
                       I am trying to explain how the road can be a bandage.

(“The Leavings”)

 

and finally, if you chose to explore those broad influences, to question and celebrate them, to acknowledge their inherent contradictions and limitations, and perhaps make sense of, or even integrate what you’d seen and experienced and felt more fully into who you might become—

 

He’d tell how crossing home that night over Hot Metal’s span,
he looked upriver to see the nighttime shine of the city’s hundred bridges—
Tenth Street’s towers, the tied arch of Birmingham
loping the Monongahela, Liberty’s double deck grillwork
lashing land to land like a rail tie, like a great animal spine
stretched across the water.

(“Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1966”)

 

then you might write poems as startling and quietly powerful as Grady Chamber’s arresting debut collection, North American Stadiums.  

 

I don’t know
how to define mercy,
but the field
is lit like the heart
of the night,  gnats flitting
above crosshatched grass,
huge shadows of the ballplayers in stadium light
whistling signals
from the outfield.

from “Explaining the Resurrection in Simple Words”

 

Built around a series of trips that touch more than 20 states, this singular and sinuous 

bildungsroman—odes, elegies, idylls, pastorals, and psalms—offers a stunning lyrical testament of the power of poetry to render fearless discernment into revelatory art. 

 

Somewhere in South Chicago the millwrights and welders
of US Steel are leaving their masks
to hooks and lockers and shining out
in evening still covered in dust.

(“Another Beauty I Remember”)

 

Ralph Hamilton is editor of RHINO. With an MFA in Poetry from Bennington, his poems have appeared in Court Green, CutBank, Pirene’s Fountain, Blackbird, The Ilanot Review, and elsewhere. He judged Fifth WednesdayJournal’s (FWJ) poetry prize in Fall 2013, and served as FWJ’s guest poetry editor in 2014. He also co-edited the debut volume of Glass Lyre Press’s Aeolian Harp Anthology in 2016.  His first book of poems, Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015) was listed among the top 10 poetry books of 2015 by a committee of the American Library Association, and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. In 2015 Ralph was also nominated for Best New Poets and a Pushcart Prize.  Ralph is currently working on his second book, Faster, Daddy!