87 North

Overview

Written in the course of several journeys home to visit the poet's adoptive parents, Michael Coffey's second poetry collection begins with a surreal guidebook that takes us from one end of New York State to the other, and ends with a family recipe.

Filled with images that are loving, jarring, indicting, preserving, 87 North is a testament to the power of language and the pleasure of sound. Coffey writes to record memory and experience, and to ...

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Overview

Written in the course of several journeys home to visit the poet's adoptive parents, Michael Coffey's second poetry collection begins with a surreal guidebook that takes us from one end of New York State to the other, and ends with a family recipe.

Filled with images that are loving, jarring, indicting, preserving, 87 North is a testament to the power of language and the pleasure of sound. Coffey writes to record memory and experience, and to give details the dignity of their names.

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Editorial Reviews

Susan Wheeler
Michael Coffey's second book exhibits the ferocity of his range: polemics worthy of Pope; quick delights that ignite in wit; and dazzling, luminous poems that mix the language and geography of upstate New York with history, faith, autobiography, and poetic inheritance.
Library Journal
In his second collection, Coffey steps back from the exhilarating linguistic experimentalism of his first, Elemenopy, into a more familiar, domestic lyric posture. Route 87 North is the leg of the New York Thruway that runs to Saranac, the poet's boyhood home and the inspiration for poems like "Adirondack Sounds," in which the narrator tries to instill in his young son a sense of geographic rootedness by asking him to repeat the place names of his own youth: "Beekmantown/ in my boy's mouth/ is a clear parcel of fields/ farmed for stone and apples..." In contrast, several pieces measure the more charged atmosphere of New York City, Coffey's current home: "Car tires lick the street,/ lifting and replacing/ ribbons of rain,/ a kind of getting, ripping/ and simultaneous healing." Coffey acts as a barometer, registering his self-consciousness in a precise moment of time and physical space. The drawback, though, is that most poets writing today do exactly the same thing, and one wishes Coffey had indulged more in the kind of idiosyncratic, associative risks that make his opening sequence, "In Robert Motherwell's Car," so richly enigmatic.--Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566890854
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/1999
  • Series: HOA Tinh Series
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 124
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


    In Robert Motherwell's Car


Above a cliff
a boy could see it—
the dented funnel
atop Doyle's farmhouse


spewing smoke. Go on ahead,
Dad says, so up the flags
I stamp, flags tamped into the turf
a hundred years ago. Dad coughs and hacks.


* * *


What's nine-and-a-half hours
from where the Shinnecock squat
over shallows
to the rocky outcrops of the Mohawk?


* * *


    Truths, like aphorisms, are a line long.

I never saw
what Dad said fell
off the mountain that night.
Some gazelle or a weasel


jumped, maybe a lynx; just sprang
from the spring above the road
and roared, white in the moonlight. "Jaundiced
eyes," Dante said, or maybe Doyle did.


* * *


Perfectly to live, to live life
perfectly, is to be filled with rage
at a world fallen and rife—
that's right—with assholes.


* * *


    Nah, to have a few thoughts is all.


"Like all revolutions, it substituted some
new restrictions for old ones.... Real freedom would be
to use this method when it could be
of service and correct it.... Sexual liberty,


[Breton] proclaimed,meant every conceivable
sexual act
except for homosexuality
[René Crevel, René Crevel, René Crevel]," wrote Ashbery.


* * *


The unsightly genetic collision
of a LaDue and a DeFayette, once wed,
yields a humpbacked, slant-eyed,
fish-mouthed being, an echt-marlin.


* * *


    Rigmarole and upstate towns.


Made of birchbark and wicker,
was prodded along in the surf by a stick,
kind of a catamaran
that carried a baby Indian.


A mother, shin-deep, moved with it, just off shore,
starting somewhere near Sagaponack
heading west the length of Long Island ...
... ahead to New York Bay ...


* * *


... up the Hudson to Lake Champlain
and along the St. Lawrence northeast
to the wide, briny Atlantic, a dream ...
... down the coast to Boston and ashore.


* * *


    From Ausable, Rockwell Kent lit out for Greenland.


Evening, we were visiting.
I am Eddie, my father's boy
but 10 years old,
a part of the evening, like the flies


and the Fleischmann's whiskey
and the flyer for the county fair,
fawned over, I was, was me,
by Dad and Doyle and Dante.


* * *


... Hutchinson to the Cross County Expressway,
then you hit 87 North.
Take that for all it's worth
straight home.


* * *


    Headlights swing down Steve Ryan's hill, freeze you in your chair.


Knowing like I know now
you learn to make exceptions
and change—a kind of allowance
for chance and natural disorder.


I stay sober these days, halfway
there, kind of like an alphabet
you tire of after M or so, the music stops.
Suddenly, is old, is deaf.


* * *


It is our forms that fail us,
with some purpose. At the sixty-foot pool
above the stretch of river now forbidden to swim
I go with my kids, see a family of DeLormes.


* * *


    The shape of desire never changes.


Doyle or yellow lilies evolve—
Dali after Long Island
made a Tristan Tzara arras
even René [Crevel] never said took.


Still, I'm Jack L'Aventreur, in a bistro
in a Breton piece I saw
at Guild Hall in Easthampton.
I am Donati's spooky decalcomanias ...


* * *


... and Maya Deren's At Land, shot
at Amagansett on the beaches, sand
in black and white, shells, a dead man,
a chess piece, oh me.


* * *


    Ernst's King Playing with His Queen in Robert Motherwell's car.


Late one night I stop
at our Redford Church and go in.
The tan and ochre fieldstone
house of worship where I spent


Sunday mornings. Mom, Dad: we sat in the same pew.
It's dark now. Who cares? Churches are open
all hours in the country.
I have a lot of drink in me.


* * *


My friend says it's spin control, dude.
He knew Dad, was a nephew to Doyle.
Randy's one man who's seen the face of God.
He lost an eye to it.


* * *


    There's the thing in the trees, and the wind.


I walk slowly—thunk—into glass doors: these are new,
the vestibule leading to the aisle.
Recovering, I walk down the nave, furtively,
feigning guile


to the communion rail. I can't see the statues
along the sides—who'd want to?
I kneel and make the sign of the cross.
And for a moment look at Jesus.


* * *


And I know him, and through him
he knows me. The Son says I'm fucking up.
What's new? I say He is, too.
We have an arrangement.


* * *


    Ermine is a weasel, pal.


Thus Doyle (or Dali) after Dad died
(not Dante) telling me, all dewy-eyed,
what's what, in a voice like tar.
A shock: he knew the poets of the Great War.


Who would have known it?
Sure, with the D&H
he'd been to every county in the state,
including Yates and Wyoming. But Wilfred Owen?


* * *


Shoulders of a marlin. Head of a pin.
It could move an engine block
with one hand (or fin?)
and count to ten.


* * *


    A dull cruelty; a remembered infidelity cools me.


And if it's alabaster I wouldn't know it.
It's pink, dusty, chipped
like old cake frosting, plaster
maybe, the body of Christ, his robe.


In the car still running
warm in the winter
I have the radio on.
Some song I know, some rocker.


* * *


I say, "C'mon, take me, sucker.
You took the railroad guy Dad knew named Doyle."
Ha. He's like me:
he won't listen.


* * *


    In the world and out of it, stay on its roads.


God. They never spoke of him (or her?)
but of Rockefeller, yessir. Whence this sense
of cement I've had ever since
to the town "Gouverneur." Oh roads ...


How what was built was built. And why.
Seein' how the cards are played,
said Doyle, and seein' 'em right.
Dad nods through the smoke like he has it made.


* * *


I'll tell you: it's 500 miles
Montauk to Saranac, exit 37
off the Northway; a short while
west on Route 3, you're there.


* * *
Wet hay in the barn, burning.


Of Doyle what remains of his house—
I drive by—
are the staggered flags going up the hill.
Dante's dead, I've said. So's Dad. The knoll flat


where the house used to pitch
as I drive by
and still don't know
what lasts of what's written.
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Table of Contents

In Robert Motherwell's Car 13
By Whale Light 26
The Wind 27
Melville on the Beach 28
Trees of Knowledge 29
But No 31
At Sagaponack 34
First Snow 36
Rhythm City 39
St. Vincent's 49
Mid-life, Looking North 50
John Cheever 51
Central Park West 53
Summer Morning 54
Noise Meter 55
No Answer 57
My Quarrel with Language Poetry 58
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