West 1/8 Mile Line Road
by Patrick R. O'Donnell
Prentiss Publications

"So though a highway that had an end
It witnessed a sojourn that did portend"

This rhythmic collection of rhyming poetry evokes moods and memories from a post-World War II middle America of veterans, nature, and simple pleasures. These lyrical, syllable-rich poems beg to be read aloud, where the beats and rests move the words from static groupings on the page to near-musical verses. The poetic format holds up through both cheer and mourning, an elastic style that lends itself as much to the whimsy of remembering childhood moments as to the tragedy of reflecting upon loss and injustice. In the former, the poems have an upbeat singsong quality. In the latter, they function as dirge or elegy.

While the romanticism of looking back often suggests nostalgia for happier, simpler times, this collection is hardly a nod to innocence. On the contrary, the memories here are thick with death and loss, from mourning veterans and other deceased to reflecting on loves and opportunities lost. The blended perspective in many of the poems offers an intriguing approach to loss that documents not just the fact of death but also the curious experience for witnesses seeking to act and react in line with society's conventions, even when life and feelings are anything but conventional.

Other themes recur through amalgams of eccentric characters and across rites of passage like learning to hunt, attending church, and facing fear at the dentist. Nature poems mark the landscape, too, with local views and accessible, familiar objects, as in the selections "Nightsky" and "Apple Tree." Still, the dominant takeaway is of loss and what-ifs, as though one is in the latter phases of a well-lived life when much of the suspense is long gone, and the storyline is known. The possibilities to consider are those of the past, of what might have been, and of which roads diverged and might have led elsewhere.

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