Darkness on the Face of the Deep
by Patrick Reardon
37 Poems ~ 114 Pages
Price: $18.50
Publisher: Kelsay Books
ISBN: 978-1954353766 and 978-1954353763
To Order: https://kelsaybooks.com/

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

As I prepared my mind to review Patrick Reardon’s remarkable new book, Darkness on the Face of the Deep, a song by country music superstar, Garth Brooks played on Sirius XM radio. The haunting melody and emotionally rich lyrics somehow resonated with me and formed a connection between me and the poet. Here is the opening stanza and chorus to Brooks’ award-winning song “The Dance”:

        Looking back on the memory of
        The dance we shared 'neath the stars above
        For a moment all the world was right
        How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye

        And now I'm glad I didn't know
        The way it all would end, the way it all would go
        Our lives are better left to chance
        I could have missed the pain
        But I'd have had to miss the dance

Reardon, a deeply religious man, is committed to not missing the dance. His poetry and faith rise to the surface in sophisticated verse which captures both the “moment [when] all the world was right,” as well as the surprise, irony, and pain of a world in which the only certain thing is uncertainty.

On his dedication page, Reardon, thanks major poet Bob Dylan as the source of the collection’s title. “Darkness on the face of the deep” is the second line in the opening strophe of Dylan’s song “Spirit on the Water.” This poem is an important and contextually significant resource for understanding Reardon. The plain-spoken Dylan is all about not missing the dance.

Darkness is structured into three divisions: “Constant Streetlight,” “Foreign Warning, Love Text,” and “Manufactured the Earth,” each in its own way brings forth the pathos of life.

The collection’s title recalls the opening lines of Genesis, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” We not only have the hovering spirit of God, but as Genesis chapter 1 continues, light appears, and a sense of order and peace find their place within the narrative.

However, Reardon writes with an acute sensitivity to life’s brokenness, life’s tragedy. Scripture does the same thing. Neither the Bible nor Reardon provide easy answers to hard questions.

“Pa” the opening poem in Constant Streetlight, is peppered with Biblical connections that describe the lives of Pa and Ma. Here’s an excerpt:

        Drive Chronicles Avenue straight out
        of downtown for three miles to the
        railroad bridge, empty as a Roman
        ruin, turn right toward the spray-paint
        chaos of the Grass Lake rocks, right
        again onto Esther Road, to 135, and
        there’s tight-wound Pa sitting on the
        dusk porch while nervous fireflies,
        trespassers, skitter, knowing nothing
        else, around the maypole of his chair.

The poem continues within a shawl of family chaos. Within that chaos, the Constant Streetlight, hovers but does not get in the way of free will and the consequences of tragic life-decisions. “Pa” sets a tone for the entire collection.

Moving into the next section, “Foreign Warning, Love Text,” that Constant Streetlight, serves as a segue into poems with fascinating titles: “He Tossed His Sin Stone,” “Goddess Dementia,” and “Lots Drawn to Inspect Stuffed Animals during the Class Visit to the Central Illinois Natural History Museum, Tuesday, March 27, 1923.” There are more, but these will illustrate that Reardon is a poet of substance. His titles demand that we hit the pause button, buckle down, and really think about what is being offered.

Within his plethora of captivating titles, Reardon’s verse portrays life metaphorically as eating forbidden fruit, transgressing, missing the mark, taking the wrong path, falling, and more. However, that Constant Streetlight, is never far away. In “African Lion,” dedicated to Chicago activist poet and scholar, Haki Madhubuti, light is manifest. Here is an excerpt:

        The lion of Africa, now
        in winter, still burning bright.

        Flame conflagrates till
        those who have ears
        to hear, raw hearts,
        transmutes, transmits
        vision—steel spine,
        mother touch—as when
        he first taught: Don’t cry,

Haki, which means “justice” in Swahili, represents at least in part, Reardon’s heart for love and justice. But love and justice are not for sale at bargain prices. Both require sustained effort.

This reviewer senses that it is the poet himself who needs these poems. Too many of us dwell in the basement of life, at ease with the world as it is … until that same world, steeped in darkness, touches our lives. And that, it seems to me, tears at this poet’s heart. I return to where I began … Darkness on the Face of the Deep, pays tribute to that which separates character from the lack thereof:

        And now I'm glad I didn't know
        The way it all would end, the way it all would go
        Our lives are better left to chance
        I could have missed the pain
        But I'd have had to miss the dance


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