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.


Especially Then is a book about relationships, loss, and memory. None of the poems is specifically medical in content, although many deal with death and suffering. For example, “Phase” (p. 21) is a wonderful poem about a boy losing his grandfather to lung cancer and “In Name Only’ (p. 49), similarly, about grieving over a wife’s death.

It is interesting to compare David Moolten’s poem about “Chagall’s Fall of Icarus” (p. 70) to W. H. Auden’s "Musèe des Beaux Arts"  (see annotation in this database). In the latter, Icarus’s plight is a plunge to physical extinction, a fate ignored by others who have their own lives to live, their own tragedies to endure. In Moolten’s poem, Icarus dies “only in his dreams, only in the myth of leaving.” He tumbles into his past; he returns from exile; he falls “towards his sketchy village, A native son humbly doing as he was told…” (p. 71)


David Robert Books

Place Published

Cincinnati, Ohio



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