Gaylord Brewer’s newest of eleven previous books of poetry, Worship the Pig, is a quiet sermon from a porch chair, a walk with a pleasantly full belly. Although the title could imply an imperative towards worship of the profane, however holy that is, the poems instead gently insist on the divinity of the commonplace, or more specifically, the little things that reveal themselves to the quiet and patient. The speaker is conversational, wandering, and full of a pleased and grateful awe that invites the imagination to watch its playful work.
Although the occasional poem contemplates the natural world at its most grand, for the most part these are poems of backyard and dining room miracles: “the deer mouse who appears / for a handful of seed,” “breakfast of eggs Benedict / and squeezed juice,” and of course “Holy loin, blessed shoulder, / belly, fatback, cutlet.” The hummingbird appears frequently, almost as a delicate symbol of the whole book, scavenging with its long beak for the drops of sweetness held in the flower’s open palm.
This holiness is bodily and often melancholy. The voice varies from the solitude of the traveler to the solitude of the early morning, both full of contemplation and possibility. Brewer explains that most of these poems were written during three residencies in Alaska, Costa Rica, and the Brazilian Island of Ilhabela. But rarely is the poet’s personality far from any line or any description of setting. Reading Worship the Pig, there is much less sense of place than there is of mood, which creates the kind of intimacy that comes from time, the intimacy of contentment and habit. In an early poem in the collection, Brewer quickly establishes the setting of a grocery near White Summit Pass. Rather than describe the small town in the mountains of Alaska, he focuses on apricots, writing:
Still, they looked the part:
bright of color, firm of body, the tickling
fuzz, sexy crease. So he fell for the idea of them,
cradled a sackful back to his cabin.
It’s difficult for me to find comparisons to these poems. There are qualities that bring to mind Milosz’s humble prophesies or the earthy divinities of Robert Bly. Some of Brewer’s poems contain the sensuality of Sufi mystic poetry, while most are subtly meditative. There’s little that’s explicitly stylized here. Brewer’s writing is direct. He points, guides, like a friend on a hike. Here, he points out the “small brush-footed butterflies / clustered this morning / in the ridges of the porch stone” with effortless clarity and confident grace. Later, he tells you that “Yesterday beneath the bruised sky / you ate the best mango of your life” with deadpan hyperbole. But then, relaxed and content, comes the sneaking epiphany:
But in this fleeting instant that lasts
forever, you sit still, face to the sun,
warm, breathing, and nearly forgiven.
All this gives the effect of being in conference, of being with the place you’re in. A silent conversation with humble landscapes. These are good poems to read aloud; their deep feeling comes naturally from details clearly drawn from the poet’s memory (or imagination). I guess you could say they reach for the stillness and humor of haiku, but in a way that’s particularly of the two American continents where Brewer wrote them – and not just because of the animals that wander into frame and the food that Brewer turns into sacrament. The stillness, the patient contemplation: it’s there. But its conversational, like the stillness of long, familiar talks.
The god of these poems isn’t engineering the world from a supernatural control room. They’re a neighbor who happens to have a miraculous influence over even the smallest parts of our lives. They’re an animal butchered into a meal that must be overcome, wrestled like Jacob. They’re the light that shows the colors of the world and the wind that carries its smells. Part of the value of poetry is its ability to remind us of the world that we forget. These are poems to help you remember.
Worship the Pig
by Gaylord Brewer
Red Hen Press
Published June 16, 2020