80 pages, $16.00
Geoff Rips is a writer’s writer. He is a novelist, a journalist, speech writer, grant writer, script writer and, now, with the publication of The Calculus of Falling Bodies, we are presented with his first poetry collection. Inspired by nature, work and politics, and with his family as his muse, it is a fine debut.
Many of his narrative poems juxtapose the workings of nature and his growing girls, as in “Wetlands” in which he and one of his daughters are at the Gulf, bird-watching: “as I stand, landlocked, watching my daughter watch the pelican, / then leaping herself, jeté on the jetty, / then again, arms thrust to the skies, then again / and she’s gone.” There is a good deal of anxiety in these poems – all things pass, even good things. How to hold on? Rips implores someone to tell him how. This is his “Appeal”:
The kids in bed. I make my rounds. Front door.
One child, a still life between two stuffed bears.
Mail on the table. Tell me. The other,
covers thrown off, frozen in full gait. Running.
Back door. Can something new come of this?
Tell me. The house is dark. The cat climbs a screen.
I sit on the couch listening. Can I hear you sleeping
in our bed? Tell me. The house shifts.
If I stand too quickly, will all this slide away?
In the “Personal Geography” section, Rips shifts gears with darkly humorous odes (one features cockroaches) and laments to New York City where he seems to be homesick and decides “We fall into the way we live.” This is “Looking For Work”:
Today I feel like someone
who is capable of doing something.
Soon they’ll grab me and say,
“All the decisions are ours.”
But today I feel capable of anything,
capable of rejecting myself,
capable of lying in the street,
capable of digging my own grave.
The dignity of work and people are important to Rips (see his introduction to himself at the beginning of the book) and the political life of the nation appalls him. In “Dreams”: “The subconscious of America is paper thin. / Our anorexic inner life. / We’re standing in the creek of this nation’s sins and the water’s rising, / …"The world is complex. Not what the crowd at Hooter’s / wants to hear.” Or this, from “War is a Cure for Loneliness”: “Meaning is a cure for loneliness. Nations are lonely. / War has meaning. Until it no longer does.”
The concluding, eponymous, section is concerned with loss, with mortality, where we insist on ourselves, asserting ourselves to the general disregard of the cosmos. Rarely, we get a brief reprieve. My favorite, “At 51,” in its entirety:
I’m glad my losses are gradual.
We outlive all our joys. But
just now I’ve been dancing on the front porch
with my beautiful daughters as they gyrate
down the uncut trails of their green lives.
Even the setting sun seems to pausebefore it drops.