Hicok is one of my favorite poets. Partly, itís the
movement of his lines, which are both conversational and
utterly unexpected, almost as if he (or we) are joining
a conversation that extends beyond the framework of the
heart is cold," he writes in
"Pilgrimage," the opening effort in his new
collection "Elegy Owed," "it should wear
a mitten. My heart / is whatever temperature a heart is
/ in a man who doesnít believe in heaven."
then thereís that: his unrelenting vision, a sense of
the world as both utterly real and utterly elusive, and
heartbreaking because we have to die. Death is at the
center of Hicokís writing ó not in a maudlin,
self-pitying way, but rather as a vivid presence,
infusing everything, even the deepest moments of
connection, with a steely sense of loss.
was made to touch a corpse as a child," Hicok
writes in "Coming to life," before telescoping
into the future, to look back on the experience from
afar. "She felt like nothing," the poem
concludes, "he would tell a woman in college, their
backs to the wall as they sat in bed. Sheíd asked what
he meant by nothing. It was just that as if in the
silence of her skin all possibilities had been taken
away. But they had just made love and he didnít want
to bruise her warmth. The opposite of this, he said,
putting a finger to the mole on her knee."
we see the essential tension of the collection, which
exists in the space between nothingness and being.
"(I)nanimateís the one word / Iíd execute by
guillotine," Hicok tells us, "to excise the
lie / of lifeless, since bite into any bit of dirt / or
dust and youíve got a gob full of electrons / and
quarks, the whole menagerie of matterís / in there,
pinging and swooping, steelís got a pulse / as far as
Hicokís getting at is both the necessity and the
inadequacy of language, the very bluntness of which
(talk about a paradox) makes it all the more essential
that we engage with it as a precision instrument, a
force of clarity, of (at times) awful grace.
word terror," he writes in "Notes for a time
capsule." "Iíll bury the word terror / to be
free of the word terror. / ... If terror is said / seven
times in a row, it loses meaning, becomes / humdrum, a
mere timpani of ear. / If terror is said seven hundred /
thousand million trillion times, I am being raped / by a
a nifty bit of writing, not least for its playfulness,
the deft move from "humdrum" to
"timpani," the way he reads the undertone of
words. But even more, it affirms the basic faith of
Hicokís writing: that in a world of loss, of
evanescence, we are left alone with our perceptions, so
we had better be as rigorous as we can.
right, of course: At this point, what does terror even
mean anymore? Or inanimate? Or miraculous (another word
he singles out in these poems)?
Hicok insists, we need to zero in, to find the space
between words, where our consciousness can be rendered
as both burden and blessing: brief, inexplicable, and
yet the only thing we have.
driving / along," he declares in "Ode to
ongoing," "or painting a board or wondering /
if we love animals because we canít talk with them /
more intimately that we canít talk with God / and the
whole time thereís this background hum / of sex and
devotion and fear, people telling / good-night stories
or leaving their babies / in dumpsters but mostly
working hard / to feed the future what it needs to grow
strong / and prefer sweet over sour, consonance / to
dissonance, to be the only creatures who notice / the
stars or at least use them metaphorically / to go on and
on about the longing we harbor / in such tiny spaces
relative to the extent / of our dread that weíre in
this all alone."