The Bones of Once Beautiful Things: William Taylor Jr.’s The Hunger Season
I’ve been away from poetry
and now I must rake leaves
with nothing blowing
between your house
—Lorraine Niedecker, from For Paul and Other Poems
There is a moment in Lorraine Niedecker’s untitled poem in which a silence is captured like a butterfly in the palm. It is the space between many months and and now. It is the silence of nothing blowing and the heavy implications of between your house and mine. It is a wordless elegy for what must have occurred during the time the poet was away, and the fled things she can never hold again. The silence invoked in this space is like the silence of deep pain, or the silence of sitting in a kayak in the center of a large body of water, away from the noise of traffic and the speakeasy of trees. This silence preserves a moment like an insect pinned within a shadowbox, or a picturesque and soundless blizzard inside a snowglobe. One can practically hear the scraping of leaves across grass and feel the keening desire for what once was. It is within this poignant silence, made possible through the work of poets like Niedecker, that William Taylor Jr.’s The Hunger Season abides. If one could grasp the feeling to which Niedecker alludes and magnify it a hundred times, studying it from every angle and dressing it in the banality and loneliness of daily urban life, this would be the feeling William Taylor Jr. has described for us so starkly in poems like “Adrift” and “Our Last Five Dollars.” In Taylor Jr.’s monochrome universe, the waves are “taking you down. . .simply because they’ve nothing else to do,” and the people mill about from place to place, crunching over the “bones of once beautiful things.” There is a kind of bodily silence, too, in the physical feeling of hunger. The stomach drops and then churns, but between that activity is an aching need that we cannot fill with food. We need poems. We need William Taylor Jr.’s poems.
I’m going to get a bit personal here. As a child, I had few friends that weren’t make believe and I was born with an underdeveloped sense of belonging. Relationships I fostered with the hope of an eventual payout were always disappointing and usually snipped like flowers before they could blossom. If I look back in my past, what lies between your house and mine, I see only a series of endings. I learned early on how to be hungry, though I never knew anyone else understood that hunger until lines like, “Sometimes the world seems little more/than a gradual falling apart/ a disintegration/ in slow motion” that called out to “those of us/here now/continuing/as best we know.” The taste of belonging I have always craved, yet never found, seemed ameliorated for a time. I felt good, in a sad way, knowing that at least in this craving I wasn’t alone. The poet himself is in the storm-tossed boat with me, saying, “I don’t know what to do/with the heavy sadness/and the hungry void.” It’s as if we’re both castaways, after all the emergency stores have been devoured by other travelers. What are we going to do? The Hunger Season has an answer, in part. There aren’t any miracle cures or happy endings. There are no feel-good reunitings or uplifting aphorisms. “I don’t have much to offer/in the way of hope/or belief,” he admits. All we get by way of advice is to continue doing as best we can. But sometimes, acknowledging the cold, hard fact of living, of continuing this breathing in and out, is enough for us. Sometimes, we just need someone to hold us and say, “I know. I feel it, too.” So often, we don’t need resolutions, we only want to know we aren’t alone. When you can’t trust the police, each other, or the deities— who want “merely to see/how we break,”— we can trust the poet who wraps us up in silent understanding, who knows that, “God is yourself/ walking out into yet/another day never knowing/exactly why.”