Make Anything Whole, Brendan Walsh
Five Oaks Press, 2015
Reviewed by Miranda Morley
From the humid heat of Laos, to the cities of Korea, to the twisting turning highways of the United States, Brendan Walsh’s poetry collection, Make Anything Whole, invites you to experience a world of diverse people, foods, liquors, environment, and cultures through tiny morsels of meaningful moments. Walsh’s poetic form, subjects, and places are constantly morphing, transfixing his readers with rich, vibrant, sorrowful, and hopeful images—women planting rice in the hot sun, the taste of the perfect beer after hours of searching through busy, bustling urban Korea, fattened strawberries and lilac-scented air during a Connecticut Spring.
By tantalizing us with this variety, Walsh paints a portrait of contradictions while at the same time reminding us of our insignificance—of the mere spec each of us occupies on this diverse, ever changing planet, he defends our importance, describing how “life travels from one thing to another.” Consider these lines from “No Life, No Hope,” a dismal narrative of a four-year-old girl who lies sick and dying of the mosquito-borne dengue fever after a rainy season in Laos. As the villagers consider preparing “the tiny bones for burning,” their minds are occupied with a muted hope of the possibility of life after death.
What will she be in the next life?
What did she do in the life before,
To ever deserve this?
They wonder but do not ask.
They have only been told
of the cycle, how life bleeds
and blends into the next.
How this body delicate and dead,
could be a buffalo,
banyan tree, elephant, some hope
for life as the stagnant flood waters
In “Where There Is a Life, There Is a Hope,” however, Walsh revisits this story, and this time the muted hope becomes a clear reality.
A little girl had died. Her village
rendered the tiny body ashes – smoke
ascended and fell as dust,
impregnating the ground. The dust and dirt
swirled with the rain, fortified a farmer’s corn crop
and with it, his record harvest.
The fat gold jewels kept him afloat at market,
his wife wrote dozens of corn recipes,
their children gained weight like city kids.
With every corn stalk, they ate the girl,
until she floated in one hundred skins…
This mixture of significance and insignificance, hope and hopelessness, poverty and wealth drips from the pages and places of Make Anything Whole in a believable and approachable way that makes even the most untraveled reader understand the claim that Walsh makes in his preface – that it is possible to be most at home in settings and situations that are foreign. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that Walsh, a U.S. resident, struggles most with his verses written in and about the United States. In addition to their repetition — a rush of alcohol and road trips — many of these poems stick out because they don’t provide the same images and thoughtful conclusions as their predecessors.
Still, these poems present ripe fruit for meditation. Though Walsh’s writing is filled with contradictions, so is life, and it is Walsh’s willingness to bring us this collage of conflicting and coordinating ideas and images that makes his collection a worthwhile read.