Crushing on Richard Siken

a review by Kaitlin Dyer


If we were to open up heartbreak like we can open a clock and inspect its moving parts, then, surely, we would find the poems of Richard Siken's first book Crush. While some of his work does offer a semblance of hope and optimism, these poems are simultaneously tinged with foreboding. In Siken's opening poem, “Scheherazade,” the speaker waxes about the days when “we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days / were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple / to slice into pieces.” This visual draws the reader into the visceral world of the speaker and makes us want to believe in the hope of this relationship; however, the poem itself warns that the love in these poems will not be earned easily and are just as likely to end in heartbreak. “Scheherazade” continues with the foreshadowing lines: “Tell me how this, and love too, will ruin us. / These, our bodies, possessed by light. / Tell me we'll never get used to it.” The speaker in this poem, and the readers too, will not get off so easy.


Of course, we don't want it to be easy and Siken is more than happy to oblige. Crush journeys us through the various beautiful mechanisms of heartbreak. In “Boot Theory,” the speaker struggles between the outside world and his innermost feelings: “A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river / but then he's still left / with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away / but then he's still left with his hands.” Even when not confronted with the prospect of a romantic relationship, Siken reveals to us the innate ability of humans to break our own hearts.


It is not only the act and the demotic emotional pulses of heartbreak that Siken presents to us, but the maturity that we can attain. Towards the end of the book, the speaker seems to grow in his contemplations as exampled by “Meanwhile”: “The way we move through time and space, or only time. / The way it's night for many miles, and then suddenly / it's not, it's breakfast / and you're standing in the shower for over an hour, / holding the bar of soap up to the light.” It is only after the speaker has experienced all these other forms of sadness, grief, obsession, and pain that he is able to learn from these emotions. We, the readers, have the benefit of learning from the speaker's experience, as he concludes in the last poem of Crush,“Snow and Dirty Rain,” “We are all just trying to be holy. My applejack, / my silent night, just mash your lips against me. / We are all going forward. None of us are going back.”