Bret Shepard

Bret Shepard has lived in Barrow (AK), New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He is currently a McPhee Fellow in the PhD Program at the University of Nebraska, where he teaches writing. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters and Commentary, Cold Mountain Review, Concho River Review, Copper Nickel, DMQ Review, Matter, and elsewhere.

In the Socket of Nature

Trey Moody:: Climate Reply:: New Michigan Press

In Trey Moody’s Climate Reply, strange events become the everyday. The very first poem sets this stage: “The tiniest oak tree / in the tiniest room— / as we feel our eyes, our greedy joints / unhinge and root” (1). This image requires imagination to conceptualize what it means to unhinge and root ourselves. The relationship to place draws forth the invocation that our bodies feel what the eyes lack. It is strange and suggests that what we see (including in this book) will require an undoing of our eyes. Such a project as Climate Reply’s depends on flipping the everyday on its side and redirecting perspective to what goes unseen. The chapbook deepens the relationship between body and nature, while at the same time stripping away general conceptions. That is, the quotidian becomes squeezed tight until some new phrase or relationship develops.

Moody doesn’t stop at making the strange approachable; he flips that notion on its side and makes the everyday strange. In “Hum of the Fridge like Thought,” it is asserted that “when I open the fridge / in the middle of the night, I can hear / you thinking behind me” (7). The moments of understanding for this speaker rest in how the commonplace is perceived, the thinking we can hear. From the title poem, “Climate Reply”: “Ground warm with flesh, ears as if to watch” (3). Flesh merges with the world as sight is rendered useless; what’s left must be heard. The image of such a convergence, flesh and earth, grounds the imaginative and theoretical notion of ears watching. And that is what separates this chapbook from the many others that are pressed each year. Trey Moody strikes quick and deep with images and ideas that haunt long after.

Thematically the book is connected by Moody’s concern of the natural, though not exclusively for the natural—rather, the book travels the interplay between types of natural, which is to say the environment and humanity, or the human environment. Humanity claims levels of nature, be it naturalness in genetics, the nature of ourselves and who we are, or the Nature that exists outside our constructed worlds, as in the wilderness remaining undeveloped. Both situate a problem of knowledge. What can we predict and control about either? In “The Listener, The Land” Moody uses the rhythm of images to bring in this idea. A narrative of camping, of being in nature, rests underneath this poem. But the images suggest a taming. A “plastic bear” with “plastic claws” subdues what is formerly wild. It is the resultant image when you think you have everything under control. Reading these poems, one becomes aware that the speaker isn’t under control and has a sense that the world is not under control, either. The poem concludes: “this racket gets out of hand, and / in the quiet room I’ll stitch / your fabric name to the tops of trees” (2). Much like Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar,” this closing image places the human choice onto nature. There is a need to organize nature, but un-order belongs as much to humanity as to the wild itself. If there is a quiet room, it is one that the speaker is building.

This book differentiates itself from “nature poetry” with its interest in nature’s impact on the human. But using “impact” doesn’t give the full sense of what Moody creates in this book. The dialectic in these poems is one of influence. While the body is compared to a tree in “This Forest isn’t a Room,” in the poem “Birdsong” the human mind is numbed and memory becomes a “silent cloud of ash.” The natural world persists in providing possible guidance. The possibilities are what drive the dialectic between natural and unnatural. This happens in the series of connected poems “Dear Ghosts.” These poems lace domestic scenes with the fears lurking in the dark, which often become what is outside. In “Dear Ghosts” number 6, “Like Dust around the Light Fixture,” we get the space of these philosophical grounds. “So the morning came. The light bulb / didn’t matter. I unscrewed it, / something as warm as flesh, and put it in my pocket. / So you see, the days / were manageable. That is, the days / were when I missed you the most” (15). In order to see, we need light. That is how eyes work. But where does light come from? This poem asks that we turn off the lights when we can and take the flesh for what it is. Resolution of the dialectic is the noticing of the dialectic; really it’s about each other as much as where we are together.

These poems pull our eyes out of their sockets and it feels good.