A Small Fire
by Russell Kesler
Pecan Grove Press
Russell Kesler’s latest — and I believe, first — collection of poetry, A Small Fire is grounded in reality, occupying the normal, natural life we all become accustomed. Each of its three sections appears to examine distinct realms – memory, nature and loss — yet incorporates they same in many poems.
In “From a Fifties Childhood” the speaker remembers the “noon whistle started with a groan/and rose to a howl” and can clearly imagine the town’s inhabitants:
Dogs rolled out of sleep to stretch and bark at shadows.
Some people sat to ham and cherry pies, some drew up to cornbread an cold greens
And just a few pages later in “A Small Fire,” Kesler conjures strong emotion from ordinary things with a very subtle hint that something is amiss:
The table laid simply, the first camellias brimming a bowl between us, buttered toast and a grapefruit halved our mid-winter plenty…
Grapefruits, squirrels and make countless contributions; Kesler hones each imagine, twisting them over and over to the point that I found myself, during many moments while reading, thinking that he must often sit in his backyard observing and imagining that the cardinals, the cat, the woodpecker, and countless others, had more to offer than the humans around. In “At The Window,” the speaker is more in touch with the squirrel than he is with his next-door neighbor:
The blue jays at the feeder scold the squirrel who seems to feel the seed is there for him
When I put the feeder on a pole he climbed it. When I hung it from a chain he clung by his back paws and gorged himself. I tried a plastic owl that frightened everything but him. The next-door neighbor says I’ll never win. “The only thing to do,” he said, “is put him in a Brunswick stew.” He laughed, and I let it pass. I know that squirrel from any other…
This sense of belonging with nature is sometimes interrupted by loss… of function, of life, and of memory. In a couple of poems a recurring character, Mason, appears, and we get the pleasure of witnessing his transformation from middle age (“Mason in the Cemetery”) to old age (“Floaters”) to medical crisis (“Returning”).
Kesler views the everyday life we often don’t take serious with striking clarity. “Fiction” sums his collection very well and examines many common elements of other poems:
Anywhere the squirrel turns the dogwood’s bright berries burn within reach. Low sun picks out the lichens on the limbs. No doubt
a story’s waiting here. A hawk might slash into the scene, all beak and talons. A twig this rodent trusts could break. But the moment
passes, uncomplicated by development. The read fruit vanishes, black paws drop flakes of bark like snow. No one’s heart aches.
There can be no doubt that many stories are waiting in his next collection.