The author dedicates this collection to "my brother Andy, in memory." Indeed, the second half of the book (Part II) contains 22 poems that concern the brother's suicide at age 47. Although two poems in Part I are in memory of recently deceased poet-friends, most of Part I handles a variety of experiences, memories, and reflections, all written with self-deprecating humor. There is "My Worst Job Interview"; a poem about a writing class in which the instructor repeatedly announced to the class that Harrison was "hopeless" ("Fork"); a riff on being one of those "who know something about the world / but not a whole lot" ("Incomplete Knowledge"); a poem about a disastrous breakfast with a friend who is said to have Asperger's syndrome ("Breakfast with Dan"); and in a more serious vein, "My Personal Tornado," in which Harrison presciently speculates about "the maelstrom" that is bound to hit him, just as all lives undergo "this beast of wind that sucks you into / the updraft of its hungry funnel."

Part II begins with a museum visit in which the poet speaks to a 15th century statue of a saint: "Now I want to tell you everything / that has happened to me since I last saw you" ("Saint"). There follows the 12 part poem, "An Undertaking," which begins with "The Call" from Harrison's father in the middle of the night, and moves through the family entering the dead brother's apartment, packing his belongings, telling the poet's children, and above all, trying to understand: "I weighed possibilities, made lists, wrote memos / to myself: was it spontaneous or planned -- / and for how long? I couldn't let it go" ("The Investigation"). Attempts to understand continue in "Confession" in which Harrison retrospectively acknowledges "your small odd habits // that were probably symptoms / but which I chose to see as harmless quirks." This long poem sequence ends with a "Plea" to be forgiven for preoccupation with self, for not recognizing a brother in need of help, yet: "No one can forgive me but myself . . . but I can forgive you for killing yourself."

The remainder of Part II includes a poem about the poet's senile grandmother who nevertheless notices at Thanksgiving that "Someone's missing" ("Happiness"); poems about joy and renewed loss when his brother appears in dreams ("The Return," "Not Waking Up," "Visitation Rights"); anniversaries of the death ("Anniversary," "Fall Truce"); memories.


This collection is noteworthy for its well-crafted, down-to-earth engagement with matters both mundane and deadly serious. Every poem in this 77-page book is interesting, well-written, "accessible," worthwhile. From a literature and medicine perspective, the section on suicide (Part II) will be of particular interest because it covers the gamut of what a survivor experiences following such a calamity. Compare this collection with poet Alan Shapiro's exploration of his brother's death from cancer (Song and Dance), and with memoirs that search for an understanding of the life and/or death of close relatives (John Vernon's A Book of Reasons, Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) -- all annotated in this database.


Four Way Books

Place Published

New York



Page Count