“Fervor reduces thought to shorthand and / all we get is an icon,” observes Richard Siken in his much-anticipated follow-up to his first book, Crush. From characters and images one might find in a fable—talking foxes, valiant swords, a moon stolen like silver by thieving brothers—Siken renders his speakers’ familial and romantic desolation as a gallery of fifty not-so-still lives, appearing as gauntly shadowed landscapes. Siken’s fervor concerns the urge to flee the self, as in the haunting “Landscape with Black Coats in Snow”: “We left footprints in the slush of ourselves, getting out of there.” Equally harrowing are the speakers’ doppelganger confrontations: “I followed myself for a long while, deep into the field … Yellow, yellow, gold, and ocher.” Beautifully troubled, Siken’s depictions of lives after romantic trauma often start as painterly exercises and end with direct address. “The Mystery of the Pears” studies “Five brown pears in a chipped white bowl,” and ends by suggesting: “you might like it here.” From static iconography Siken creates mysterious narratives of domestic purgatory: “Maybe we will wake up to the silence / of shoes at the foot of the bed not going anywhere.”
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2015.