Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father – Bryan Borland (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Buy it direct from Sibling Rivalry Press

If writing is a catharsis, it’s no coincidence that some of
the most potent work comes out of grief and loss. Even in the most amateurish
of hands, this kind of art usually comes across with its poignancy intact, but
a skilled author or poet can transform it into something emotionally sublime.
And that’s what we have with Bryan Borland’s Less Fortunate Pirates.

The back cover blurb indicates Borland’s father was killed
when his Ford Explorer ran off a bridge and plunged into a lake. Death is
death, no matter the reason, but one that comes out of nowhere is particularly
difficult because there’s no way to prepare yourself. The coping mechanisms and
grief processes are totally different than for the death of a loved one who’s
been ill or whose demise was expected.

Borland covers those bases and more from the get-go with
“Instructions on How to Approach the Bereaved,” “Those Earliest Dawns,” and a
poem the book was nearly titled after, “Dark Horse”:

 

                        “Vice
Presidents and sons take oaths/

                        to
circumstances they don’t think they’ll see:/

                        a
bullet navigating the channels of patriarchal brains,/

                        forefathers
assassinated by black-cloaked conspirators,/

                        death
to legislative bills that would grant their boys/

perpetual
youth. This is how Johnson felt/

when Lincoln
was shot. I am not/

ready to be the
man of the family.”

A friend of mine once said grief is a series of
firsts—inevitable events that mark the passage of time and must be faced
without the person who has been lost. Borland knows this all too well, as many
of the poems here call attention to specific days and nights of importance—“The
Morning I Read Whitman to Three Hundred People,” “The Day I Pack His Things,”
“The Night Before Fathers Day,” “The Day We Do Not Choose Your Headstone,” “The
Morning I Stare at The Water for Hours,” and “The Day My Mother Says She Wants
to Move” among others.

Reading about such naked grief has its voyeuristic aspects,
but Less Fortunate Pirates has a sharpness, an economy of style, and a
universality that prevents it from becoming maudlin “grief porn.” Moreover,
Borland never loses sight of the fact that life continues for the survivors.
From the frankness of “Survivor’s Guilt” to the hope of “The Night My Marriage
is Saved” to the sage advice of “How to Grieve,” the reader sees how Borland
gives himself permission to live. Take, for example, “The Day I Return to My
Wanton Ways:”

           

                                    “…There
are minutes/

                                    I
forget. When I remember to respect/

                                    my
grief, I am the prodigal son,/

                                    but
each time I return, I’ve moved/

                                    farther
from him. When a beloved dies/

                                    we
wrap them in shrouds of our skin./

                                    Death
strips us of the bullshit./

                                    It
is life that brings it back.”

Art is carved from the soapstone of emotion and experience,
and Borland has whittled a moving song-cycle, well-observed and wise, from the
piece which fell unexpectedly into his lap. We are sorry for his loss but
thankful for the skill that turns it into something that we can not only admire
but take to our own hearts.

His father would be very proud indeed. 

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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