'Wherever' by Kevin Bezner
At the end of Book V of the Aeneid, just before he visits the underworld, Aeneas loses a close friend. While steering the fleet, the Trojan helmsman, Palinurus, is lulled to sleep by the god, Somnus. As Palinurus dozes, Somnus throws him into the ocean. The loss rouses Aeneas from his own dreaming:
Here the commander felt a loss of way
As his ship's head swung off, lacking a helmsman,
And he himself took over, holding course
In the night waves. Hard hit by his friend's fate
And sighing bitterly, he said:
Overmuch on a calm world, Palinurus,
You must lie naked on some unknown shore." *
Losing Palinurus reminds Aeneas of his own isolation, his status as a perennial wanderer. And Palinurus is only one in a series of friends lost to Aeneas, a character nearly incapable of sustaining human relationships.
Like Aeneas, the narrator of Kevin Bezner's Wherever is haunted by an inability to keep his friends. For one thing, he is too peripatetic for closeness: "I have lived many / places. Not one / I call home." ("Wherever"). Other loved ones have left him ("Reading the Birds"):
Another death. Another crow.
This one hides
behind the full leafed trees, black
a painter's brushstrokes
And off I go
to wander with eyes around the path below,
Closed by a strong end rhyme these lines accentuate the most overwhelming fact of Bezner's world: whether by dying or wandering, we manage always to sabotage our intimacies.
But the affinity between Aeneas and Bezner's voice runs deeper than rootlessness. Both men are troubled by ghosts and have trouble sleeping because of it. "Doors," one of several prose poems in Wherever, records a dream:
I am at my mother's house . . . I expect to see something bad, so I shiver,
but a baby appears. I reach out to it. It floats up to me, but in midair it
becomes a gargoyle and leaps to my throat. I put up my hands in defense.
And, suspecting I will die, I wake up.
In "After My Father's Death" Bezner again straddles dreaming and waking:
And while I remain in dream
I am startled awake.
I want to say, "You died in May.
I saw you in the mirror
In "Reading Jotei" the insomnia motif becomes literal:
Up late, sleepless
again, the old worry
that I've lived too many places
and so have missed my life—.
As in Aeneid V, a speaker's insomnia evokes loneliness; it prompts him to speak about the loneliness that attends the business of roaming. In Wherever we see this dynamic writ large.
Yet for all the thematic similarities, Bezner remains poetically distant from Virgil. While the Aeneid treats the matter of loss in a sustained narrative, Bezner's style is lyric, achieving a compression that is reminiscent of Asian rather than Roman poetics. Bezner's short lines scatter his thoughts. He leaves fine, empty space on his page. The book's final lines read ("Wherever"):
Always with me.
This koan-like paradox pares down to its most basic the pervading mood of Wherever. Bezner's most consistent burden is his lack of burden.
Bezner's poetics operates not by narration, but by repetition. The book returns again and again to a few images: bare trees, snow-covered landscapes, solitary mornings. These images form, in an emphatically lyric mode, a strong sense of literary character in the narrator's voice. Bezner's next work, Particularities, is forthcoming this year. Particularities is to be a book-length poem. Will the objectivist strain in his poetics translate across forms? The transition seems like a leap. But Wherever demonstrates that Bezner is in good command of his craft.
* Virgil. Aeneid. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. Vintage, 1985.