blackbirdonline journalSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Review | Daniel Boone’s Window by Matthew Wimberley
Louisiana State University Press, 2021

spacer Daniel Boone’s Window (Louisiana State University Press, 2021)

The poems in Matthew Wimberley’s Daniel Boone’s Window immediately establish themselves as intimate and powerful poems of place. They are situated in a landscape teeming with life and the natural world, and propel us in that world by means of their rich, lyrical narratives and complex philosophical investigations. They confront what it means for us, as humans, to inhabit a place, much less claim to know it.

Take, for instance, “To Shadow,” a poem early on in the collection with a meadow at its center. Echoing through this place are the passing of the man who has inhabited the meadow and the voices of the poem’s speaker and his friend, who is later revealed to be the man’s son. The movement of these voices allows the poem to demonstrate exactly how the wires of our separate lives weave and cross.

This movement relies upon the poet’s choice to push to the foreground the meadow and the winding mountain road that leads to it. The immediate presence of the meadow and the road eventually provide the superstructure that enables the speaker to observe that “This is how loss begins to work.” Loss seems to be the inevitable consequence when human and nature intertwine, and this consequence is the premise that these poems seem to be working from—loss of the natural world, loss of what is loved, and loss of reliable memory. Though the first connotation of loss is typically negative, these poems also ask us to think of loss as a way of framing, a way of looking out.

Conceptually, the window seems integral to this collection as a framing device and a means of creating limits, both for looking out and through. In “Window,” the speaker imagines returning to Daniel Boone’s home and, looking through his window, observes, “ . . . how one window can let in the whole of time.” The scope and consequence of this letting in is potentially overwhelming—the whole of time and, perhaps, space brought into a single abode—but as the speaker later notes in looking out, “When you lift it and sight out the window, / down the range of torn river oats, there is some feeling you’ve returned home.”

The yearning to look out and immediately find something familiar strikes a chord of universal experience, but often this hope for a vision of the eternal amounts to little more than the writing of our own desires and wants onto a landscape that owes us nothing. This fantasy can last only so long, and it is indeed only temporary for the speaker in “Window”:

Though, soon after, you learn the letter was a forgery conceived to make money

in 1985 by a man who, when discovered, set off two pipe bombs in Salt Lake City,
hoping to cover it all up, as if he could walk away from the rising pillars of smoke,

the deafening shock of the blasts, and two lifeless bodies—
get into a car and drive away.

Though the consequences of our wanting are not necessarily always going to end in this forged letter writer’s disastrous choices, I do think that the poet’s focus on those desires speaks to our not uncommon inclination to escape unscathed from the situations of our lives.

In addition to how these poems question the scope of the human, they also deftly address impending ecological crisis. In “Encomium for Our Last Days,” the collection’s opening poem, the speaker imagines a future world at the moment just before its destruction and how that moment might be spent—intimately and quietly, filled with laughter about the absurdity of our human lives. The speaker, however, is planted in a more quotidian present and must work multiple jobs to survive and make ends meet. But the speaker can still observe that “Surely / it will fall apart. Surely our time / is closing in.”

With this tone in the collection established at its beginning, the poet directs a number of the pieces here to speak to our current climate crisis and the destruction of natural spaces. Thus, the momentum of the book demands that the speaker ask larger questions about the nature of fate and determinism.

When we as readers widen our scope and think of the planet, we often find ourselves joining the poet in an inevitable state of resignation and inevitability, frustrated in our questioning of what we can and cannot know.

This state provides a strong impetus for “And So It Ends with the Cry of a Nuthatch on the First Day of Spring.” The poem’s speaker begins by establishing what they do know: that they will at some point have to rise from the couch and crawl into bed, that they must dream, and that atrocities will continue to happen and the speaker’s protest to them will mean little. Despite the sense of certainty that seems to surround these pieces of knowledge, what cannot be known—even by those sources that the speaker takes to be the most knowledgeable—continues to persist.

The questions press on: how tomorrow will begin; what music the world will end to. When steeped in these questions of fate, how can we not think of apocalypse and history? It seems that we must also come to the same conclusion as the speaker:

What I can make of this all now
will slowly fade away
here on this page
which wants only emptiness,
the beginning and end of desire. Days
no one will remember will
vanish, drift off into the distance.

Though there is emptiness at the beginning and end of desire, there is much in between that we must continue to navigate—though the choices we make are frequently built upon faulty reasoning and logic. We like to think we often make the wrong choice by accident, as though that might save us from guilt. But in “Poem Swept Clear of Time” the speaker carries the body of a hummingbird out into a patch of ironweed and notes:

I might say I feel
ashamed. Not because there
was anything I could have done
differently but because
there was.

I admire this admission, though it deeply unsettles me and asks me to question what I take to be inevitable. In similar ways, I see many of the poems in this collection interrogating the relationship between the natural and the cultivated, as well as the general attitude that destruction and loss can be grieved after the fact, but not fixed before. This is a scathing critique of our apathy and indifference toward the world that we claim to love, and it brings to light the often discordant, and sometimes hypocritical, views we hold toward our individual and collective lives.

The poems in Daniel Boone’s Window ask these tough and necessary questions, yet they do not fill me with a sense of utter despair. There is always a strong sense of music in each of these poems, and despite the difficulties encountered within them, this poetic landscape is realized in language that is evocative and poignant. These are no doubt poems of place and of Appalachia, and Wimberley’s masterful crafting of the world in each of these poems, coupled with the thoughtful questioning that takes place in them, position this collection as an important work in contemporary ecopoetry.  end

Matthew Wimberley is the author of Daniel Boone’s Window (Louisiana State University Press, 2021) and All the Great Territories (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Orion, Poet Lore, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. Wimberley teaches at Lees-McRae College in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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