reviewed by Larry Menlove
David Lee will be reading and discussing his work, including the book reviewed below, at four different sites in Utah during October as part of the Utah Humanities Book Festival: 10/8 at the SLC Public Library (4th floor) in partnership with City Arts (with poet Gailmarie Pahmeier); 10/9 Snow College Convocation Series, 12:30 pm, 150 College Ave. East in Ephraim; 10/10 Kiva Koffeehouse, at 6 pm, mile marker 7386 in Escalante; 10/10-13 with Craig Childs at the Cliff Notes Writing Conference in Boulder.
David Lee’s latest collection of poetry, Last Call (WingsPress, 2014), is a natural and honest pleasure to read. It is like an afternoon at an old watering hole with your buddies elbowed up all along the whiskey-stained oak, heels hooked in the bar foot rest, and the former poet laureate of Utah, Mr. Lee himself, serving up the day’s oratory libations.
Last Call is a eulogy to Lee’s colleague in verse, and late friend, Bill Kloefkorn. The poems also tell a sweeping story set in Garza County, Texas, that revolves around “The Monument to the South Plains.” The monument is young Willy John’s “indigenous sculpture.”
…a tower amalgamated between an obelisk
and a Babel ziggurat, a spiral of plough shares
fenders and motor covers, tractor seats and steering wheels
a corn planter, spring tooth harrow and a flat cultivator
manure spreader, deep trench, disc cultivator and a windrower
Lee’s Garza County, not in the heart of Texas but surely positioned in an important organ–say the spleen?–is populated with characters divers and appealing. Their language is simple and colloquial, roughshod and earthen–“Texanese.” Two retired professors, Billy Klogphorne and Clovis Ledbitter hold court through most of the poems with their bickering and erudition.
That, sir, being a highly commendable votive castureation worthy of one PBR
Which I accept with honor
Let us go then you and I
while the evening spreads against the sky
like alcoholics to the School Board Meeting
I, sir, am not an alcoholic
I am a votive casturationist drunk
The difference being?
Alcoholics go to meetings
I’m going to Adolph’s
Perhaps you do know Jack Shit
and in that light
I, sir, will be your Sancho Panza
You can sense that Lee has sat there in Garza County and just listened. Listened in the bars and the town council meetings and the cafes. He’s hunkered down in the buffalo grass at the ends of county roads and in the gravel of the school playground. There is a rhythm in these poems, a solemn plains note lifted with rumba.
listening to jazz, the morning sage and Raft River bank brush
bent frostquivering willowwhite
and the road kill breakfast club buzzards
flap flapping across my window like sleetwind
sky curdled into thunderbumpers
gas tank three quarters leaning on half
Miles slouched over my tiny mind
blowing Bye bye Blackbird
because I’m driving all alone
A few folks come and behold Willy John’s statue, to stand around it, ponder, and pontificate. Then la Bruja, “Eva Saenz Mendietta the Seer” sees a face half way up and states: “Veo la cara de la Virgen and all were sore amazed”. She whispers to Willy John’s father, “Cuidado, novio, if this gets out / it will no longer be a sculpture or monument / it will become a shrine. ?listo para eso?”
And so they do come, “the paisanos…by the pickup truckloads …until Willy John’s father”
had to build and plumb toilet facilities
put out fifty five gallon oil drums for garbage
then the word spread to the gringos
who came in station wagons in order to make damn sure
I read straight through this collection. Then turned right back to the first page and started over. As with most poetry, second readings reveal new insight, different shadings, like driving over old highways from Twin Falls, Idaho, say, down to Garza County, and then turning back around to see it all from a different perspective. Clovis makes that first leg of the drive in the poem titled “Driving Solo: Clovis Rants A Monologue in Five Acts with Intermission” as well as in “Interlude at McDonalds in Ely, Nevada, drinking coffee after filling up my truck with stagecoach-robbery priced diesel ten point two m.p.g.”
Long titles. There’s also:
The morning Billy Klogphorne taught the adolescent male Sunday School
class lesson on the designated Christian Leader Preparation
outline topic of Genesis 5: 18, 19 and 23, 24,
proving Lamech and polygamy were of the lineage of
Cain and therefore accrsed of God
Why he was never invited back
to teach Sunday School again.”
The “Why” is partly because:
isn’t it adultery? and isn’t adultery a sin?
that is a wholly different topic
but in any case I do not believe it is necessarily so
Adultery is recreation.
There is that, and there is also the story elucidated to the Sunday school children about Brother Klogphorne’s stob that when invoked keeps his pants up. A story best kept to the imagination or to those so inclined to search out Mr. Lee’s book to ferret out the finer details of why he was never invited back to teach Sunday School.
Okay lay it on its side and turn it upside down
standing up so wegn get to the wheel
now you take a pair of pliars and a monkeyranch
you just uncrack that nut like this
loosen it up to where the wheel comes off
you don’t have to take the nut all the way off
So begins a lesson on fixing a flat tire on a bicycle meted out by Johnny Bert Ezell in his filling station “At the Sign of the Flying Red Horse” on a slow afternoon to young Monroe Newberry whose no-account father hasn’t taken the time to teach his boy some of the more useful parts of life. Johnny Bert Ezell knows how to fix a flat tire. And he knows how to fix a car: you start with the easy stuff:
when a car won’t start
the first thing I’d do was check the fuel gauge
turn on the key and if the line don’t come up
it’s probley out of gas and that’s your problem
Too bad the car that wouldn’t start was not the reason Lucy Beth was there to see ol’ Elder Ezell. She did (as I did!) get a fine tutorial on troubleshooting a dead car…but nothing on what to do with a wayward husband.
Details. “now bend down over the fender for a sightline / and click the ignition one bump at a time / till the points come all the way open”.
Details. “Yougn lean over and examine the carburetor when the housing lid’s off”.
Hope. “I’ll bet two dollars to a doughnut / wegn get her done one way or anothern”.
These poems tell a story in sun-struck verse that is irreverent, ribald, and elegant. Words in the vernacular like “oncet” and “twicet” and “wegn” pepper the lines and flavor the world of Garza County. But in the poem “Last Call,” Lee lets us not forget in the end that life is short and good honest friendship and admiration for lost friends can inspire verse that hums with perfect pleasure like a prairie wind through taut-strung bailing wire in the upper most reaches of a Monument to the South Plains.
And you my friend
whom the gods call
into that other alone
wherever you wake
be it desert or forest
mountain or seaside
dry moss and kindling
strike a small fire which
will flicker beyond forever
your bright poem
fork your lightning dance
I will find you
sooner than later wherever
you wait in the darkness
We will sing together
delirious and off key
We will tell great lies
to shame the heavens
We will cook with wine
I promise you this
Larry Menlove is a graduate of the University of Utah. His fiction has appeared in many venues including Weber Studies, Dialogue, Irreantum and Sunstone. He lives with his wife, children and an old cat in Spring Lake.