Sentences and Fragments: Brian McGettrick’s EVERYTHING ELSE WE MUST ENDURE

Sunnyoutside

52 pages, $13.00

 

I want to look at two poems from this collection, “I found out over coffee, a danish, and a donut” and “burn.” Together, I think they can stand for the whole, or give readers a sense of what else they might encounter if they were to purchase this book.

1.

“I found out over coffee, a danish, and a donut.”
let’s try to keep
the kids out of this one
let’s try to be
a little less brutal and unkind
let’s try to discuss
like adults
our momentary loathing
for one another.
stunted adjectives
used as plotting points
back from rigged misconceptions.
clear mornings and coffee.
how can love
with all its intricacies
cradle me now?
I respond to this poem as a reader who has been in a “brutal” and “unkind” relationship, and although we did not have children it is not difficult to imagine the extra complications that would have arisen if we had. There is something so touching in the sentiments here: to want to keep the children protected from adult problems, to want to shelter them. And, beyond this, to want to be less “brutal and unkind” to a person who was, and probably still is, loved. If even just on a basic level of human interaction and decency.

There is something, too, that I understand very well about the fragment, “clear mornings and coffee.” As I type this now, it is 8:38 AM on a Sunday morning. It is a fine and cool spring day. I have just come inside from letting out the dog. It rained during the night and the ground is still wet. I could see my breath. I take a sip of coffee now and I feel I know this fragment; I feel I am this fragment.

And then what follows, what closes this poem, is a question I also understand: “how can love / with all its intricacies / cradle me now?” Who wouldn’t understand this question? Who hasn’t asked it at some time? Who hasn’t wanted to be cradled by love, by a love that doesn’t exist, can’t exist, but is desired nonetheless? To end on the image of being cradled, protected, cared for . . . it seems just right given the poem’s opening, the poem’s opening wish to protect the kids. I think poems, the way I have often thought of poems, are most successful when they deliver the kind of understanding that this poem has granted me. I feel I know something about myself, or that I have come to acknowledge something about myself. Perhaps this something is shame, guilt that I was unsuccessful at being less “brutal and unkind.” And yet, it is comforting to know I tried.

2.

“burn.”

as my two daughters
chinese burn
both arms
trying to use me
as a fire pole
my wife smiles over.

 

not a nice smile
of a mother watching her children
at play
but a vengeful smile,
one that lets me know
that this and much more
is expected
to make up for last night’s
drunken fight
and this morning’s hangover.

 

I might as well
stand naked
an inch from the sun.
Since this is a post about the relationship between sentences and fragments, let’s look at the first two lines. Alone, it’s hard to see how the two work together. It isn’t until the third line, or the third fragment, that the reader understands what’s happening. And it seems nice, doesn’t it, the wife’s smile? The first stanza does something interesting. As a whole-sentence fragment of the larger poem, it sets up the tension that follows.

The second stanza is pretty interesting. We learn the smile is not “nice” and that it is “vengeful.” We go on to learn in this sentence that the speaker is hungover and that the night before there was a fight. The use of “drunken” seems to imply that the fight was pretty bad, and because of the violence in the first stanza (“burn”), it could be that there is violence also implied by the word “drunken.” A hangover, too, is a violent thing:  there is pain, throbbing, sensitivity to light.

Which makes the final stanza really interesting. The entrance of the sun offers up several possibilities:  a followup to “burn,” a second burning, but also, given light sensitivity, a third “burn,” the burn of being further punished. And, of course, being the subject of the wife’s disapproval, her anger, there is a fourth reading of “burn,” because it seems the wife gets some pleasure from seeing her husband suffer at the hands of their daughters’ play.

3.

Everything Else We Must Endure

These are poems that the average person can read and “get” and like. I’m the first to admit I’m a terrible reader of poems; I often get frustrated and confused, but I feel as if McGettrick’s poems speak to me. They offer glimpses into a domestic life that I pity but also deeply understand. I sympathize with the speaker, and with his wife, and I also sympathize with myself.

There is something refreshing about reading poems like these. Their simplicity is intriguing; they are not flashy poems that draw attention to their language; no, it seems that more than anything these poems are about the emotions experienced as the scenes play out. We get characters, we get scenes, we get narrative. These elements certainly are helpful to a reader like me. They help me to feel as if I’m not a dummy when it comes to reading poems. They help me to feel, even better, more human, because they remind me of my own flaws and the strength it takes to recognize these flaws and fix my own bad behaviors.

If you have ever made a mistake, it seems, these poems have something to say to you. I’m certainly no saint, and I’m certainly not perfect, but after reading this collection, I feel as if I don’t have to beat myself up over my failings. I can get on with my life. I can face the day. I can look at myself and say, “You’re not such a bad person, after all.” And what a wonderful gift for a poet to offer his readers. What a wonderful collection of poems to have in this world, our world, for us to turn to when we need them. Get your copy here.

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