Donald Levering, Breaking Down Familiar (Charlotte, NC, Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2022)
‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’ Joan Didion wrote in The White Album. Stories are passed down and re-written, told again in new voices that speak of the old themes: family, love, loss, connection. While they hold reality together, stories, as Donald Levering writes in his latest collection Breaking Down Familiar, are also a form of transportation which allows us to survive. ‘It’s not really my son sitting next to me’, he writes in ‘An Egyptian Myth’, a poem in which a father watching his child emerge from the ruins of addiction brings himself repeatedly ‘back to the podcast, the true myth’. Levering’s narrative is one of a family tied together by perverse and often toxic means. Rather than flesh, here bones constitute generational joints: in ‘Lights Out’, a daughter whispers ‘with the shades drawn amid her animal skulls’ as her father recalls a trip with her to a cave. The poet present here is a teller who will ‘collect the hard remains’. In ‘Anniversary Knee’, the speaker’s visit to the chiropractor echoes down the bloodline in a grandfather’s ‘lifelong limp from the cow’s kick’ and the violent grandmother who, like the cows, ‘kicks at his knees’.
Similarly, in the ‘annual father-son game’ it is not the tactile throwing and catching of a ball that holds Levering’s attention, but the empty space between. In ‘Wobble’, ‘Everyone marvelled at how his knuckleballs Didn’t spin and showed their stitching’. As the stanza continues, the ball comes ...
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