The Evening Light
Story Line Press, $12.95, 64 pages
Floyd Skloots second full-length collection of poetry begins with "In Argenteuil, 1874," in which Claude Monet and his friends, who would paint / their wives on death-beds if the light were right, are spending their summer painting. In this unfortunately small section there is also a poem about Kokoschka, the Austrian Expressionist, who knows those eyes will rend / his flesh unless he paints them closed, and Donizetti, the Italian composer "of mad scenes mad himself."
More painters follow, including a paranoid Van Gogh walking down a Paris street with Toulouse-Lautrec, who doffs his Homburg, stops to greet / all the women, then shambles to rejoin / his lanky partner who casts suspicious / glances left to right.
With so much poetry being written in the first person, it was refreshing to read a poet who, with knowledge and humor, tells stories not overtly based on his own life. The tense, however, changes as quickly as his life changed. As Skloot wrote elsewhere: "I used to be able to think. My brains circuits were all connected and I had spark, a quickness of mind that let me function well in the world All that changed on December 7, 1988, when I contracted a virus that targeted my brain."
In "Bedridden," writing through the limitations his impaired condition imposes on him, through this window he follows the sun and the seasons, hearing "the animals come to drink," watching deer "stutter-step along the pond," and a flock of red and gold / leaves come to rest on Russian sage.
Some of these poems are touching in a way that only a mature poet could accomplish without sounding self-obsessed and maudlin. As when he is to meet his father, hoping he will know me with this cane / in my hand, which is made of the same / gnarled wood as his own two canes. In "Leakage," facing what I take to be his mothers macular degeneration, he notices that: her gaze / turns only outward, fierce as ever in its search / of the one place there is no hope of clear light. Here I recognize the eyes of my own mothers "gleaming dark center(s)."
Primarily a regional poet, in a region with a contemporary history of several dominant figures, Skloots strength is also a weakness. This becomes evident in "Day of the Rainbow," which begins with an inspired image: The day we drove straight into a rainbow, but ends with I thought ahead, then put my thoughts aside. This last line is an echo of the next to last line of William Staffords well-known poem, "Traveling Through the DarK: I thought hard for us all--my only serving .
Some, probably subconscious, derivation aside, Floyd Skloots writing is of a quality that every reader of poetry, especially those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, would do well to own a copy of "The Evening Light."
© The Oregonian 2001