Blot Lit Reviews: The Crossing by Jonathan Fink
The Crossing, Jonathan Fink
Dzanc Books, 2015
Reviewed by Catherine Vlahos
There is something inherently pleasing about pairs to us humans: salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly, cats and dogs, life and death…
Jonathan Fink’s The Crossing is acutely aware of our natural affinity towards perfect pairings and the very raw humanity within us all that makes it so. This is one of many reasons his delicate, thoughtful writing makes me feel less like I’m reading a poetry book with trash TV on in the background and more like I’ve transcended the materialistic world and am receiving a deep-tissue massage in the primordial soup of the universe. Life and death, organic matter and machine, past and present, ancient energy and modern stillness. Fink’s masterful treatment of these classic forces is a steady light that guides us through the ancient, almost mystical energy at the root of many of his poems. The eponymous opening piece of his collection commands an immediate inner stillness of the reader:
The bodies hang like chimes within the boughs
Perhaps the height is welcome to the dead
that wake alone inside the bamboo slats.
They undulate a moment in the air,
then weave between the limbs to reach the sea.
The living are asleep in huts below.
I was drawn to the care Fink takes when striking a unique balance between harnessing fantastical, noble imagery of various histories’ mythologies and legends and focusing on the most intimate details of the individual human body. “An Army Moves as Water Moves” paints grandiose images of classical soldiers alive as a tumultuous sea, while, “Coroner’s Song” examines our organs, our bones, our hearts and muscles that keep us going, and both praises and laments how our past is reflected in modern forms:
See how the thorax spreads its ribs like ancient wings
In atavistic dream of flight, lost now
beyond some million years.
However, as we are reminded by the title, The Crossing is ultimately meant to carry us from one point in time to another. The subsequent sections of the collection take on a more modern feel than the first, straying away from Greek mythology flavors in favor of anecdotal snippets of the author’s life. Fink masterfully culminates all the themes in his collection with the long poem “Conflagration and Wage: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 1911,” a piece that scrutinizes a forgotten blink in time with a microscopic lens—that is to say, each individual life can seem very small against the tapestry of history.
Like the pairing of olden times and modernity he writes of, Fink’s prose exudes a classic, lyrical quality that remains clear and accessible to the contemporary poetry enthusiast. The Crossing’s message is not altogether comforting, yet I felt comforted—reading Fink’s pieces fills the soul like warm tea on a stormy night by the fire—a tradition that hearkens back to our earliest ancestors, and is likely to be repeated in ages to come.