I WILL ADMIT THIS: When I first read Michael Klein’s new book of poems The Talking Day, I read it too quickly. It took me in, held my head and my body. The experience was like driving down to Cape Cod on a warm Tuesday afternoon, no traffic, a cool wind, the radio on some station that keeps playing Steely Dan songs over and over. When I first opened the book, not really paying attention, and fell into his poem “Ghosts,” I was hit hard by the first line: “The body is everywhere.” I knew I was in a good place. I want to be completely held by a poem. I do not want to go searching for an open door. Klein’s poems let me in immediately. The line — “The body is everywhere” — is earnest, frank, and allows me, as a reader, to step right inside.
“Ghosts” was the first poem the book offered me, but not the first poem in the book. It comes in the middle of the book, not at the beginning, so I was pretty confident that I would enjoy the poems before and after. That’s how I read the book: forward and backward. I don’t do this for any particular reason other than this is how I have always tried to discover and ascertain whether a book of poems will plant itself in my “interest zone.” When a book does this, takes root, then it does not matter in what order I read the poems. There is a nonlinear thematic line that exists and Klein’s book has it, strong.
After I read that first line, I closed the book. It was enough: “The body is everywhere.” I had no idea what the poem was about but it didn’t matter because it felt whole: the body is everywhere. I closed the book. Tonight, I opened The Talking Day again after a very long week. I read, in succession, “When I Was a Twin,” “Amazable,” “Washing a Corpse” and, finally, in its entirety, “Ghosts.”
These poems are about death. They are, for the most part, about Klein’s dead twin brother Kevin. In “Ghosts,” Klein writes,
I think he comes forward through his death
Anxious to mark a wall.
But I’m wrong. He wants to repeat a thing
So he can live beyond his being taken — a habit, say,
Something faulty, that won’t catch light.
It’s a grieving sublime, these four poems, one after another after another. The living express a desperation that goes something like this: the dead are desperate too. Klein, in these poems wants to live so hard, it seems, he has no choice but to write about death. But who knows? It’s hard to know what really goes on behind the scenes of a poem because it would mean cutting into the human heart, but then, we couldn’t tell it anyway. What I do know is that reading these poems made me want to pinch myself to remind myself I was not dead. And then I thought: if I were dead, I would want Klein to write about my death because he comes so close. That’s the beauty of his voice, his vision, these poems — they express an intimacy with dying that must come from experience. Klein has allowed himself, I will surmise, not only to get close to death but also to express his connectedness to death in these poems. It must be so hard to do such a thing, to be that close to dying, and write about it with such insight and grace. Really, that is what lives at the center of these poems &...read more