Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero: Poems

Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero: Poems

by Brooks Haxton

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The critically acclaimed poet and translator Brooks Haxton embraces life, from our naked beginnings to the first signs of middle age and beyond, in this inviting collection of poems. The book opens with the dramatic birth of twins, and speaks in the intimate voice of a husband, father, and poet. Diverse products of the imagination pass through Haxton’s generous


The critically acclaimed poet and translator Brooks Haxton embraces life, from our naked beginnings to the first signs of middle age and beyond, in this inviting collection of poems. The book opens with the dramatic birth of twins, and speaks in the intimate voice of a husband, father, and poet. Diverse products of the imagination pass through Haxton’s generous mind—the mysterious number zero, Milton’s “Lycidas,” nuclear technology—even as he captures the humor and pathos of the everyday. In these brief, exquisite lyrics, meditations, and short stories in verse, he immerses his reader in the heat of teenage rivalry and friendship, the tender comedy of sex, and the amazements of the natural world. Here, from a book indelible in its language and feeling, are the last few lines:

My daughters my twin girls say Ba for bird
for book for bottle—Ba: in Egypt,
bird with a human head, the soul.
They wake and wake their mother. Ba!
They point into the dark. Ba, Ba! they say,
and back to nursing weary in her arms.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Marie Ponsot
These poems of Brooks Haxton's flash a sharp-edged light. Its tight focus swerves across some cosmic heights, and takes in stars, or roses, or the nightmare tale of a boy open-mouthed before his dentistsadist. Haxton imagines it all into poignant language—even stabbing at answers to the haunted question: What if the old love should return?
Perhaps best known as a fine translator of Greek poetry, Haxton has stories and significant ideas of his own. This collection of amusing poems begins with the dramatic birth of twins and continues with such paired subjects as suicide and catalpa pods. The longer poems, "Teenage Ikon," "I Swore My Love on the Appointed Day" and "Tweeg," reach for myth but capture melodrama. Overall, the lyric verse, especially in the sequence "What If the Old Love Should Return" and some of the poems in the section "Dark Enough to See," sings with the uncanny boldness of the ancients, who could look into a banal moment and discover eternal mysteries.
—Stephen Whited

Publishers Weekly
The overt themes of this book are fairly well laid out by the title: the body and its limitations, and what Haxton calls "displacement volumetrics," the space taken up by the self. This is familiar lyric territory: births, death, regrets spaces where "a dark and an indifferent/ Cold came making themselves/ a place with room for us." For Haxton's speaker, though, the generic themes of middle age are spiked with the middle-class guilt of a protest-era child who suddenly finds that he is part of the status quo. In bygone days, the power of hallucinogenic drugs and the easy escape of the bayou were enough to bridge socioeconomic gaps, and brought together, for example, the Haxton's Eliot-quoting poet and his Dylan-singing friend. But the friend moved onto harder drugs and younger women, and Haxton, despite a false bio in which he gives up fame and fortune for the anonymity of blues composition, gave up a blue-collar life ("instead of tears I could be selling men's clothes") for that of academia. Haxton's ideal is "Craig or Greg," the museum guard who, catching him in the midst of memorizing "Lycidas," takes over the recitation from him. Haxton's speaker recognizes that this scene is pure wish-fulfillment, and his vigilant self-consciousness throughout the book lends weight to his imagined returns to the tawdry South of his youth, and foreground a battle between a tendency towards lyricism and the desire to "make [his] part make sense." The anti-elitist ethos similar to that which drove much Greek drama seems to be what Haxton is shooting for (Haxton is a noted translator from Greek), but the necessary degree of depersonalization never quite happens. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners BusinessInformation.
Library Journal
Having previously published several book-length narrative poems, as well as translations of Greek literature, Haxton seems at home with both powerful confessional poems and works making rich allusions to Archimedes, Orpheus, Dante, Milton, and the divinities of ancient Egypt. This book creates a kind of dark myth of the self, in which separations, betrayals, and personal losses are poignantly expressed, especially in long poems like "Tweeg" and "Teenage Ikon." Haxton has a keen eye and a true flair for imagery, seeing in the scales of a bluegill "obsidian/ and apricot" or noting crocuses breaking their "muddy scab of ice." There is even sly wit and humor, as in "Author's Bio," where he fashions an outrageous curriculum vitae. Always engaging and accessible, Haxton's poems speak to the great forces in his life, including his Mississippi boyhood and his powerful connection to his friends, wife, and children. He includes them all, yet he always returns to his desk, where he finds his "life's work." Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Author’s Bio

Son of a Maori priestess and a Tasmanian pirate,
Brooks Haxton at two was thrown as a human sacrifice
from the gunwale of a careening brig into a typhoon.
Becalmed for forty days, the ship, with all his kin
on board, burst into sudden flame when struck
by an exploding meteorite. The poet, raised
by porpoises and marsupial wolves, grew to serve
as a young man at Gallipoli, where in a detachment
taking ninety-nine percent casualties he discovered the sestina
with its repeated end-words was especially suited
to his small vocabulary. For his Sestinas Under Fire
Haxton was awarded the Prix de Rome, the Croix de Guerre,
and Nobel Prizes in Literature, Physics, Medicine,
and several of the lesser categories. After brief stints
dancing for Diaghilev in Paris and acting under Stanislavski
in Moscow, he was sought out as a blues musician
by Charley Patton. Sick with fame and riches, he chose
anonymity as author of many of the great blues lyrics.
He was last seen over the Yazoo River east of Itta Bena,
borne in a silken hammock aloft by thousands
of ivory-billed woodpeckers. His poems now surface
through the mail with indecipherable postmarks,
in their folds fresh moultings of young ivory bills,
saffron dust, and legs of golden grasshoppers and bees.

As Far As I Could Tell

After they pulled my wisdom tooth both eyeballs
ached into their moorings. Something with spurs
had lodged behind my eardrum. Dawn came, vague
with codeine and the sound of rain, sheets drenched.
I had to be reminded what this meant.
Francie nudged me, “Brooks, my water broke.”
In the delivery room that afternoon
wrack of childbirth put toothache to shame.
No screams, but Francie sang with it,
a riven octave higher than her speaking voice.
Her blood splashed onto the doctors’ shoes.
Someone we had never met held up our daughter
Miriam by the shanks, terrifyingly pale blue
and cheesy in her varnish, with her arms hung down.
The doctors’ hands pushed into the dough of Francie’s belly
where it had been taut, and shifted down Twin B,
whose head in a loop of cord pinched off the bloodflow
into her brain. Francie, forceps huge,
tearing between her legs, still sang. She pushed,
and beads of sweat stood quivering in her face.
Lillie came out smaller, bluer, wearier.
The doctors handed Miriam to me
to show her mother, while they worked on Lillie
who had made no sound. Francie, not yet stitched,
lay calm, blood trickling into a large pool
on the floor. I held up Miriam, and felt
my toothache throb, the surge inside my chest,
fear building. Codeine made no difference.
Francie shivered. It was raining, nightfall.
I was kissing her, with Miriam
between us in my arms. And Lillie cried.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Brooks Haxton, born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1950, is the son of the novelist Ellen Douglas and the composer Kenneth Haxton. He has published three previous collections of poetry, two book-length narrative poems, and two books of translations from the ancient Greek. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation, Haxton teaches in the writing programs at Syracuse University and Warren Wilson College. He lives in Syracuse with his wife and three children.

From the Hardcover edition.

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