Time’s Eighteen Wheeled Chariots Drawing Near

James Southam


Never Night, Derick Burleson, 2008, Marick Press, Gross Point Farms, Michigan,$14.95 paper, www.marickpress.com, Open Books, amazon.com.



Derick Burleson’s new poetry collection pegs the currents of fear and love running through American culture in the form of our uncertainty about global warming and ruined relationship with nature, our hope in the future for our small children, and the way our once-fresh world now feels like it’s been decaying forever. The poems’ bittersweet range over these two subjects are what make this an utterly convincing book--neither too salty nor too sweet. 


The voice in the poems have the same quality--forthcoming and critical, yet intimate and kind, and Burleson’s book speaks for many of us who have observed and thought these things but not found a way to anchor them from drifting away, as thoughts do.  From “North Jetty”:


We’re already dead.

We’ve been dead a long time now.

Even if we fall we’re reborn into this:


shrimp trawlers crawl in trailing empty

sun-rotted nets like the wings of ragged butterflies

nearing the end of their annual migrations.


There are no shrimp.

There have been no shrimp forever.

Oil still pours a rainbow….


These poems tell a certain truth about our condition.  They are hard to read, but they are also genuinely accessible poems--easy to read and easy to understand, his beautiful images capturing the bad news in sad, deadly cages.


Two very fine poems in this collection, “Harvest” and “Mirabel” are both about family, and it is on this subject that Derek Burleson excels.  In “Harvest” we get some of Keats’ central and most famous images:


Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find 

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 

Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep, 

Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 

Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers: 


 Burleson rewrites it in the language of a dangerous mechanical age:


When wheat fills the machine, his father starts

the auger and a stream of gold pours into

the truck, where he is not allowed to play

since every year a boy falls asleep

in the sun on that pile of gold smelling

of bread in the heat of late June and is

buried alive by his father under

the grain we in those parts of Oklahoma

all lived to raise from red soil…



In his lovely poem “Mirabel”, Burleson has written one of the greatest, most tender descriptions of a newborn baby--and the beauty and mystery that surround a newborn— to have appeared in poetry in years:


…Her azure eyes open

and she gazes up at me, bloody


and trapped in time. Who are you, strange

creature? she wonders, and sleeps

on my arm those melting days.  She grows.

And so does my arm to hold her steady.


Her sleep, when she sleeps, is perfect.

She sleeps the spring sprawled there

on my arm and time bends with her

dreaming until summer comes


and the garden blooms….


Even if you have not experienced being a new father, this poem works as moving tribute to spring.  Don’t miss Never Night.