In "Prognosis," his eighth collection, Minneapolis poet Jim Moore surveys a nation locked down by a pandemic, rocked by violence at the Capitol, and experiencing protests against police violence, then concludes: "Certainly the ecstasy now is the simple pigeon/ flying through the simple sky/ and my simply being able to see it."
Moore isn't telling readers to look away from contemporary realities, but rather to invest care and compassion in the present moment and the people within arm's reach. Now in his late 70s, he is ready to celebrate the act of just being there: "All I needed to do ... was be with my friend."
The book is divided into seven sections, each beginning with a short, untitled poem that starts " … and" and punctuated by list poems called "Things That Keep Me From Forgetting Who I Am." This infuses the book with a sense of the perpetual, meaning a sense of continuing even in the face of catastrophe — both national and personal. He reflects that he was "not promised happiness ... Instead, I was promised rain on an empty street."
While he urges readers to be aware of the beauty in the present moment, he also acknowledges that the past informs our experience. In "Today's Meditation," he remembers the day he was released from prison for refusing his draft exemption in solidarity with his students some 50 years ago while listening to a woman experiencing homelessness play the violin — another moment of solidarity.
Meanwhile, thoughts of the pandemic also turn our attention to the future when "we will return to life as usual." In "The Pandemic Halo," he imagines that people see halos around nurses, depressed pedestrians, and dogs out on a walk. These halos symbolize that "beauty/ and death have made —/ against all odds —/ a life together." Moore writes that we will need these halos "more than ever" after the pandemic ends.
As Moore watches "a country/ that reels and staggers like a drunk father/ who has run over his own child," he sinks deeper into the local, studying how to be a kind neighbor and a good friend. He writes, "I take what I can get from the time I have left." In reflecting on aging, he acknowledges that some things are past — options like having children are foreclosed — but there is a deep satisfaction for what is. He vows "not to sing the song of creation, but to be sung by it."
Poetry is the space in which he alchemizes his wisdom and wonder into dense, clear images. He writes, "such clarity in the poems/ I love, such mystery." In Moore's work, readers will discover that clarity and mystery are not mutually exclusive as they encounter luminous images packed with the complexity of life deeply lived.
In writing, "My soul is as plain as a fallen leaf on a sidewalk — as useless, and as beautiful," Moore invites us all to see our own souls as beautiful and graspable as a golden leaf drifting toward the ground.
Elizabeth Hoover is a poet and critic in Milwaukee.
By: Jim Moore
Publisher: Graywolf Press, 112 pages, $16.
Virtual event: 7 p.m. Nov. 11, in conversation with Chantz Erolin, hosted by the Loft Literary Center. Tickets are $5-$10 or pay-what-you-can at loft.org.