many ways a life can be divided, how many ways the attention can bifurcate, how over time people and places and practices fade as new drags on preference take hold, remoras (Roombas?) that add to the clutter instead of cleaning up.
There is a lot of accumulation as memory, and memory as tabulation, in these poems. “Family Math” begins:
I am more than half the age of my father,
The poem is full of these constantly shifting calculations. When the speaker says, a few stanzas on, “I can’t remember when I stopped counting // on my fingers,” the joke is that the counting continues. It’s just that the hands at some point got too full and busy, with marriage, teaching, children, friends, books, and wars (“some are very old”), to do that kind of work anymore: “More to busy me, more to figure and record. / More to have. More to let go.”
Many of these poems, in their counting, imply lists, but others explicitly take the list form itself, numbered and all. The “to-do” stationery evident in the poems summarized above stand in as the quotidian bookmarks and demarcations that help keep track of life: what has happened, what is happening, what might happen next. In order to grasp the way Parker lightens such heavy loads, consider the very first of the list poems. The title, “Eighteen Ways to Consider a Neighbor Whose Holiday Lights Stay Up All Year,” is a pretty clear riff on a well-known Stevens poem, but Parker’s poem is more “Wally” than Wallace, something not conjured up in a mind of ice, but one of confetti:
1. He’s hopeful.
The title, alluding as it does to an abstract meditation on blackbirds, may call to mind the imperceptible motion of a tiny thing in a big swirling blizzard, but the lines themselves reveal a more overtly human comment on existence. Specifically, the existence of an ostensibly suburban homeowner, who has neighbors with whom to compromise (or contend). There’s humor in Stevens, but Parker’s is a different type of funny-bone, one that is likelier to deliver one-liners than homilies. And this is perhaps the function of bathos: to produce a sense of the ridiculous by making an about-face from highfalutin’ to pullin’ faces.
That Parker jokes around and revels in levity is no obstacle to his letting heavy be heavy. An exemplar of this type is “Eight Unfinished Elegies,” a list of somber observations at the bedside of the speaker’s dying mother:
1. To the bird outside the hospital window, I have lost my mother dying.
Simple statements, mostly declarative, all of which accumulate so the mother’s body becomes a transparency that the son throws himself upon, a void that is impossible to enter or leave. She is both the bird and the window it dies flying into, flown through and beyond life support, a big long life grown suddenly still, suddenly small. Each piece is necessary, the tone is consistent, and the final image perfect in its encapsulation of the relative weightlessness of a life after expiration.