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In The Back Chamber, Donald Hall illuminates the evocative, iconic objects of deep memory—a cowbell, a white stone perfectly round, a three-legged milking stool—that serve to foreground the rich meditations on time and mortality that run through his remarkable new collection. While Hall’s devoted readers will recognize many of his long-standing preoccupations—baseball, the family ...
In The Back Chamber, Donald Hall illuminates the evocative, iconic objects of deep memory—a cowbell, a white stone perfectly round, a three-legged milking stool—that serve to foreground the rich meditations on time and mortality that run through his remarkable new collection. While Hall’s devoted readers will recognize many of his long-standing preoccupations—baseball, the family farm, love, sex, and friendship—what will strike them as new is the fierce, pitiless poignancy he reveals as his own life’s end comes into view. The Back Chamber is far from being death-haunted, but rather is lively, irreverent, erotic, hilarious, ironic, and sly—full of the life-affirming energy that has made Donald Hall one of America’s most popular and enduring poets.
"If the poems in it are relatively somber, they’re equally witty, consummately well-crafted." --Booklist, STARRED review
"Featuring moving, amusing, musical poems about love, aging, and baseball, this work will have broad appeal and is recommended for all collections."—Library Journal
"The former U.S. poet laureate reaches his 20th book in unmistakably honest form..." --Publishers Weekly
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable detritus that my children will throw away as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.
When love empties itself out,
it fills our bodies full.
For an hour we lie twining pulse and skin together
like nurslings who sigh and doze, dreamy with milk.
Snow rises as high as my windows. Inside by the fire my chair is warm, and I remain compounded of cold.
It is unthinkable that we will not touch each other again.
As the barn’s bats swoop, vastation folds its wings over my chest to enclose my rapid, impetuous heart.
It is ruinous that we will not touch each other again.
Ten miles away, snow falls on your clapboard house.
You play with your children in frozen meadows of snow.
The Things 3
Love’s Progress 4
Conclusion at Union Lake 7
Three Women 9
Nymph and Shepherd 11
Bangers and Mash 12
The Week 20
Apples Peaches 23
After the Prom 25
Creative Writing 26
The Pursuit of Poetry 27
ii. Ric’s Progress
Ric’s Progress 31
iii. Rocking Chairs Painted Green
The Number 53
Scar Tissue 55
What We Did 62
The Gardener 64
The Offspring 65
Freezes and Junes 66
The Widower’s Cowbell 67
Blue Snow 68
The Back Chamber 70
The Bone Ring 73
“Poetry and Ambition” 77
Green Farmhouse Chairs 78