Watching the Perseids, Jed Myers
Sacramento Poetry Center Press, 2014
Reviewed by Kayla Greenwell
Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Press, 2014) truly reflects the star shower for which it is named. The collection of previously published poems encompasses the conflict, climax, and fallout of the narrator’s cancer-suffering father—and the journey is one that is deeply emotional.
Myers avoids falling into the trap of clichéd mourning images, and instead freshly and organically maps the often changing tides of grief. Readers who have experienced the decline and death of a loved one to a chronic illness will be able to find comfort and familiarity in Myer’s work. The collection is split into two parts—“until” and “since”. While this format makes organizational sense, it also reflects the change in a person who has endured the pain of saying goodbye to someone, even before that person is gone.
His writing does not merely describe, it also embodies. It’s as if his writing enables readers to intimately experience the day-to-day life of illuminated in the Perseids. It’s the reader who’s watching old recordings, singing songs, and driving back and forth from hospice. The experiences were unique, but the feelings are widely shared, and this is where the narrative becomes reality. In the first poem of the book, “Cruising Home,” Myers uses caesura to accentuate his father’s shortness of breath.
“I’m lying right on the bed beside him./He keeps catching his breath/from the trek up out of the kitchen./ We’re talking memory drifts–/time that rented Sunfish/capsized in the river, summer…”
When reading out loud it is as if this poem steals the readers’ breath.
It is a combination of caesura, enjambment, imagery, and blunt observations that allows Myers to reach out of the page and wrap his fingers around the reader, moving and manipulating them with rare and unique expertise. This is demonstrated in the title poem, “Watching the Perseids,” easily the most powerful piece in the collection.
“The broadcast’s breaking up in static—/solar flares, snow, ozone/fluctuations, I don’t know. /Should I care? I can still play the message /my phone captured one year back—/“No Time for Love,” – he sings/…
Singing the tireless dance of his life—/He left no time in it for the quiet/Closeness of watching the Perseids/Or the river from its banks, the fire’s /Sparks disappearing into the dark…./Not until it was near the time/For hospice, to never again know/where he was. Those last hours on his own/bed, I’d lie beside him and we’d sing/…”
Myers genuinely captures the post-apocalyptic hospital room created in the subsequence of death—the “since” of remembering someone who is just beyond reach. The confusion and loss of talking with someone one minute, and burying them the next.
Jed Myers’s poetry shines brightly and moves with the power and passion of a celestial force. Watching the Perseids is gentle brutality personified in ink and maybe just a little bit of reviewer tears. The poetry is fresh, the images create themselves, and there is a true sense of life in Myers’s words.