David N. Moolten
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In Especially Then David Moolten discovers his poetry in the ordinary, often painful, texture of childhood, adolescence, love, and marriage. Each memory becomes a small story-like poem that looks simple and straightforward at first, until suddenly the poem reveals its hidden truth. A sense of existential loss pervades these poems, as in “One morning as a man’s wife offers to fill / His empty bowl he feels suddenly desolate / For how plain he has become…” (“Cornflakes,” p. 31) But Moolten’s melancholy is sweet, rather than bitter; energized, rather than depleted; and cumulatively powerful, as “The tractor / Of memory drags on, churning its femurs, / Its numbers and dates.” (“Verdun,” p. 64)
Especially Then is ripe with traumatic events: A father’s abandonment, “During that proud, petulant year my father left / And I became a punk, nothing could touch me.” (“Achilles,” p. 17). A brother’s death: “in the shallow dark of years since / I buried my brother…” (“Pulled Over on I-95,” p. 23) Divorce, “despite the years between you / And a hard divorce, the unshrived recriminations…” (“Seen and So Believed,” p. 51) And a wife’s death, “As if his wife had always gone / By the name of death he thinks of her / Whenever he sees or hears the word.” (“In Name Only,” p. 49)
These ordinary tragedies play out against a panorama of tragedy, as evidenced in “Photograph of a Liberated Prisoner, Dachau (1945)” and “The War Criminal Gives His Testimony.” Most often, though, the world’s suffering has little impact on the way we live our lives, “Someone at the next table sighs / Over Guatemala, the tragedy / Of having read an article or watched / A TV special…” (“Who You Are,” p. 53) We go on as we always do.
Summary:The speaker's high school classmate was "scraped out from under an eighteen-wheeler" after an accident while driving his Harley 650. Along with the other seniors, the speaker "paraded to say goodbye / On the trauma floor." One of the surgeons called the place "the motorcycle ward." They saw everything in the ward--the pain, the casts, the equipment--but the speaker also saw within himself "the closeness / To the dead that comes with fear, / A sleeping empathy."
Summary:David Moolten's poems demonstrate the medical (and poetic) virtues of simplicity, clarity, skillful observation, and attention to meaningful detail. They reveal and transform the poet's experience--from "a brief Christmas display / Of bells and lights" when he feels the silence of his father's joy "as I pull out the Lionel / Strangled with tinsel . . . " ("Freight"), through a call from the rehabilitation hospital during which his shattered brother "cried like static into the phone" ("'Cuda"), to "The Night" in which the poet stares through the window of memory at his and his wife's younger selves and tries "to whisper in their ears / They don't know where they're going" as they "lean into each other / Like two hands shielding a small flame . . . . " Among the other particularly appealing poems in this collection are "Chemistry Set," Motorcycle Ward (see this database), "Voyeur," "1968," and "Omission."