Fish Drum Press, 2007
A Series of Small Boxes is available at Small Press Distribution.

 
Sad, witty, “severely clear,” (in his phrase), Thomas Devaney memorializes urban shadows and love modes, sometimes stepping out of the frame to contemplate the picture that he partly imagined partly discovered. The poems are resonant patches of serious life, almost as buoyant as dreams. Their light graces remain etched in the mind.
—John Ashbery

 

These are poems fit to the speed of a bicycle. Bicycles travel at the speed of American folk-rock and lyrical ballads; so do these poems. They are vulnerable, pleasurable, tolerant, wary and contemporary. They don’t complain, but watch where they’re going. Incessant pauses are inevitable when a poet has one foot on the ground and the rest of him is thinking all over the place.
—Fanny Howe

 

A Series of Small Boxes brings together poems that Tom Devaney’s avid readers have been delightedly reading and hearing for months and years. “Trying to live as if it were morning” is by now for some of us almost totemic, the digressive and quiet (yet also an audacious) theme song for the writer who lives now—right here—in the writing. To read these poems is to discover in language the alternative to the big lumbering ships that can’t turn fast enough in “Obi-Wan Kenobi”: headlong, free, willing to move any new way quickly, clambering in the song and dance of poetic possibility.
—Al Filreis

Reviewed by Alan Gilbert in The Believer (PDF)

Reviewed by Jon Emile Vincent in Jacket

Reviewed by Kevin Killian

 

 from A Series of Small Boxes:

 
Trying to live as if it were morning
           to Greg Fuchs

Every character in Dostoevsky is going to be in the hospital
        after this poem.
The underground man with a baseball bat, clearing house
“Philly-Style,” and from what I’ve seen
        it would be true.

I put the Brothers K and their endless array of calamities
        out with my pinky.

I don’t go in for the ping-pong of rational-irrational,
        possible-impossible —
The sad, lucid, mad, attractive, murky
        and yes, horrible overcoat of Paradox, Pennsylvania.

I don’t need that.

The Bros. K are gone.
The problem of fake hamburger or even real hamburger remains.

The Past at my back,
Back in the past, I agree with John Coltrane
        when he says, “War begets war.”

I drive all around my neighborhood with “the Idiot”
        in the front basket of my bike.
When he falls out we pick him up and keep going.
He’s clever in a way that any other person might be killed for.

Of course, people don’t fuck with us.

It’s the old game of imposing order where there isn’t any
        then calling yourself on it.

The ancients called it gravity; the modernists job security.
The people after lost a lot of weight and went home pissed off
Not believing they were home when they actually were,
        so they never really slept.

It’s the kind of trouble a fleet of blimps “up in flames”
Might cause flying over an Olympic stadium as seen
        on video cassette —
                    but really real anyway, like on fire.

People point out the violence I do to my own words,
How uncareful I can be — I duck under their commentary.
My copy of Crime and Punishment is under the aloe plant
        all buckled and stained from water.

A man I respect said there hasn’t been any “breakthrough work”
        since sometime in the 1930’s.
Sometimes for me it would just be breaking things;
Like my uncle’s a “good guy,” but
The precinct captain pulled his back-up.
He shouldn’t be here. We don’t talk about it.

Take out a piece of paper and write down:
Man the builder, Man the destroyer, Man the eater
        of donuts, butter cake, and pork buns.    

The experimenter says he, or a recombinant
He and She “unsettles all things.”
Even though that’s cool, I don’t unsettle “all things.”
I don’t have enough time.
There’s enough nonsense without that nonsense.

I’m not here to settle that.
I’m here to write a poem because I’m a morning person
        and it’s morning.

This is a morning poem.

 
 
Rome

There are lines from movies
That can ruin your life, is a line,
You say, that could ruin your life.
But was your life already ruined,
Or a ruin like Rome? Ashes, grass
And a see-through gown.
I've already ruined enough lines
Not to get this one right.
Yet I've always loved Rome,
The name, that is, not the city,
Which I also love in a way one can love
A city one has loved and been loved in
Because it enters you, in a way, as you walk,
Buy stamps, tell time.
No, for me that isn't Rome,
That is Roma, ages ago, and forgotten.
Or studied and false, though
Comprehensive seeming, a compendium
Of soft brassy light on that providential stone.
But never the single syllable
Swallowed whole, nor its multi-syllabic twins:
Forcible Romulus, clandestine Remus —
Ruinous Rome.

 
 
In Iceland there’s no reason

to mention the giant wave
the ocean falls          the sky
a swell          a dropping edifice three
or more storiespast the brim
barrier walls          there are no problems
the apartments of negative space
have no visitors
the house breaks o’er the coast
green moss o’er the lava hills
the sun is out              for fifteen minutes
makes a fast-reverse                and is out again

 
 
William James and the Giant Peach
           to J.C. Hallman

James ate the giant peach and waited for the rain.
It wasn’t a children’s story, but an entire year
        of his journal razored out.
The August heat had taken its toll on the garden.
The clouds hung low over the upstate hills.
It wasn’t raining raining, but it looked like rain.
James relaxed his shoulders and walked.
He didn’t feel the rain, but could see it falling
Lightly across the field of gentle showers.
You can go to the Adirondacks by yourself.
James recognized the freestone’s curve and
Golden natural split. Leaves leave their mark,
The blush is stained amber. The enchanting prints
Of leaf, sun, and skin: radiant and nude.
From James’s experience the soul ached.
He laughed at himself, but still couldn’t sleep,
Buy a horse, or make up his mind.
In most cases he preferred a mid-size peach.
On hottest day of the hottest month,
It’s easy to like a peach, even a giant one.
All mouth, all mind, the plain and high fields
        coalesce and stretch.
Yellow-gold flesh on the turn to golden fruit.
Peach passing into peach.
Taste varies with movement.
From hand to wrist and chin to ground — juice
        and more juice.
James wiped his mouth with his hand,
And hand on his handkerchief.
The red and inborn gift of a fine-grained pit,
Held, loved, and gone too.
A little more mountain and a little less valley
        and light.
Is this what “half” looks like?
Damn the causes, damn the effects.
The universe meets us half way.
When it’s perfect, “the perfect peach”
        Is the perfect phrase.
Don’t tell, never tell. Valley, mountain,
Sun-behind-the clouds — James never did.

 
 
They’re fighting in Atlantic City, in Atlantic City

The urge to put question marks after everything.
Counting the loss, magnetically stripped:
        1-800 generally desensitized.
Now that I’m saying this keeping it going isn’t proof.
They’re fighting in Atlantic City, in Atlantic City.
Legs on a chair, three fingers resting lightly on her shin.
You don’t have to get abstract to see everyone’s beat-up badly.
It’s not the future it’s Lunchtime all around.
The many ways you think about shaking off the outfit.
The kindergarten teacher’s countdown to silence.
This quiet, this time of day — call it a nap.
The fried salmon burger and the salad were good.
Where did we leave the exclamation points?
The train took me home in twenty minutes, I was grateful.
I don’t live anywhere.

 
 
Quick Bear Poem

Was that a bear? The darker part
        of the dark in the trees.
Should we go back, keep going?
Out of the corner of the eye,
        or the eye itself?
It wasn’t the “Bears in the Trashcans”
        of the evening news;
nor the darkly handsome one upright and wet,
fishing on Public Television, as far as we can tell.
Black dot vanishing to the black underfur.
The retina is alive to its widest sphere.
How we do and don’t chase
        the night’s black thunder.
In the sharp and grassy swiftness,
the upper reaches of the canopy whoosh
as nighttime particles swarm in a sudden light,
and other luminous reflectors dot and dart
on the road up ahead.