Unavoidable … evade dying at your own peril
by Marcel Aimé Duclos
60 poems ~ 103 pages
Publisher: Black Forest Publishing
To Order: Amazon.com
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
This famous opening quatrain on death, by Emily Dickinson, came to mind as I encountered Marcel Aimé Duclos’ newly minted collection, Unavoidable … evade dying at your own peril.
Duclos, a student of Dickinson, reflects her deep sensitivity to life. Like Dickinson, Duclos’ love of life informs his poetry about death. The collection’s title, Unavoidable … evade dying at your own peril, flies in the face of modern western culture’s obsession with preserving youth … a fragile enterprise at best. The ubiquitous advertising to this end sells pills, energy drinks, and workout machines. Duclos will have none of this.
Unavoidable is structured in seven divisions. Each division features an intriguing subtitle. The subtitles piqued my interest, teased me into wondering what gems lie in waiting. Here’s a sampling: Section I: “Will I let you carry me / when you find me.” Section II: “Will I let you find me / behind / the bleeding bush?” Section III: “Will I make it difficult for you to reach me, / tell you to leave me here alone?” These subtle enticements serve as portals for Duclos’ visionary thought. Each new division penetrates evermore deeply into life. Indeed, Duclos knows that only those who love life, are equipped to appreciate the ultimate life experience.
As I compose this review, (May 24, 2022), my thoughts are interrupted by news of the tragic mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It is nearly impossible to regain my composure and return to my keyboard. When I do, I encounter Duclos’ poem “Metanoia.” The term refers to a change of heart. Doing things differently due to something dramatic that has happened. Indeed, the prefix meta means all or throughout. This poem of just nine lines captures Duclos’ personal context but reaches beyond to the present meta-drama of our times:
He clamors for change.
Of course, he does–
wants everyone else to change,
to change so he can remain the same
however much he bleeds,
however much he sinks into the pool.
He wars against his need for change,
holds on to a misty mirror image,
fears meeting his own eyes.
This leads to an important principle when reading Marcel Duclos: this is layered poetry. What is under discussion within one layer, telescopes into larger, wider rings of application. Imagine dropping a pebble into a placid pool.
While Duclos is writing a very personal poetry, he speaks beyond himself into the experiences of many. This is what the best poets do.
A practicing theologian and depth-psychotherapist, Duclos calls upon these skills throughout Unavoidable. I hasten to point out that readers will look in vain for easy answers to hard questions. There are no Bible thumping preachments here. Poems which conjure Biblical concepts include, “Eucharist,” “Prodigal,” “Divination,” “Nothing is More Ancient than the Truth,” “A Therapist’s Magnificat,” “Can You Not Watch With Me One Hour?” and “Before the Beginning.” I found in these poems skilled craftsmanship. Tools such as metaphor, imagery, and allusion are offered as gifts on the altar of fresh ideas to ponder.
“In My Hammock” is one of my favorites as it places me on the threshold of both life and death … it is offered here in full:
I lie still
cool my furnace
digest the facts of my life
those divine words
Discard not a one
prefer not one over another
Prayer disdains fancy words
any word at all
holds all the facts
each in an embrace
Prayer slowly swings my hammock
And the breeze washes
over the face of my life
cools the fires of facts
those imperfect stones
fitted to perfection
the unseen temple housing the hammock
Could it be that this collection becomes a soothing salve? Could it be that life becomes more deeply textured? More precious than before in an age of acrimony and unspeakable violence? After all, “Death will kindly stop for each of us.”
I noted above that Marcel Aimé Duclos’ poetry is like a pebble dropped into a placid pool. Let it be so … yes … let it be so.