The death of Nebraska poet Greg Kuzma’s younger brother, Jeff, in a vehicular accident in 1977 caused a dislocation in the poet’s creative psyche which led him into an exploration of love, guilt, grief, and affirmation he pursued through the writing of long poems, starting in 1988 and continuing to this day. These long poems, often several hundred lines in length, are stream-of-consciousness monologues, driven by associative language and their own interior sense of direction to conclusions that become finally visible as the ending arrives. Over forty of these long poems have been published. Mountains of the Moon is the second book-length collection of them.
In these new poems, the tone seems less burdened by grief and more celebratory and philosophic as the poet moves beyond the raw emotion which colored the earliest poems. Although the subject matter of the series remains the poet’s life and family, the treatment is more forgiving and joyful, more curious and amazed by the complexities of each life and what can be learned under close scrutiny of behavior, as if each person and incident were a universe to itself that could take a lifetime to understand.
In Mountains of the Moon the central focus has shifted from the poet’s brother to his father, Harry Kuzma, recently deceased, whose competence with tools and fuming, taciturn character is a source of endless wonder for the poet. His spirit is evoked directly in five of the poems, including the elegiac “Funeral Poem for My Father” and “My Father’s Deafness,” as well as indirectly in poems such as “Lunch Break at Vien Dong,” where Kuzma notes, “As I sit and wait with my daughter / my father comes and sits down in my body. / He is dead a year and a half, but he is / on the move. Where has he been traveling?”
Other poems celebrate the mysteries of everyday living, especially the life-force that radiates from young people, contrasted with the cautious demeanor of older folks. In two boisterous poems, “The Young” and “The Precautions,” the poet is invigorated by the energy of students and the music of his daughter’s boyfriend’s rock band, which is compared to a wave of sound on which the brave human voice is surfing.
The poet’s wife, Barb, is given her own moment in “Kissing in the Car,” where Kuzma remembers their life together as “the people who chose each other once and who kept on choosing, always with the same result,” and closes with “Beyond us the world shook and /shuddered as we trembled / in the presence of each other. Never, / I don’t think, had I loved kissing more.” Rather than an austere, other-worldly vista, Mountains of the Moon is a generous and very human place worthy of exploring. [End Page 489]