- Off-Season in the Promised Land
For twenty-five years, in his poems and stories, Peter Makuck has been finding the extraordinary in the ordinary—a warbler lighting on the tip of a fishing rod eighteen miles from shore or a father’s heroism during a morning milk run. But Makuck is not just a slavish observer. One of his characters likes “to see things, really notice, no matter how lowly they might seem,” so, drugged-up, he stares at blistered radiators and low ceilings as ends in themselves. Makuck’s view, clear-headed, is more complex, more revealing about both the seer and the seen.
In his new collection of poems, Off-Season in the Promised Land, Makuck’s eye is lasik -sharp, attentive to the surface, and penetrating to the core. With supplemental help from binoculars, microscopes, underwater [End Page 188] masks, cameras, photographs, paintings, field guides, roadside markers, and an occasional glass of Maker’s Mark 80 proof, Makuck steps boldly into the world to make his own map from what he sees.
In his first full-length collection, Where We Live (1982), Makuck marked his territory: boyhood in Connecticut, escape to rural France, friends and family in Arizona, and profession and roots in North Carolina. None of these places or memories were far from his mind, so Makuck’s domain was fluid. Cars and jets, buoys and lighthouses, stars and wind speed were the proper vehicles into time and distance. In his following collections, The Sunken Lightship (1990) and Against Distance (1997), Makuck increasingly placed the coastal waters of North Carolina, Bogue Sound in particular, at the center of his universe, and an even more watery world became a solid landscape.
With this new collection, Makuck settles in, as Thoreau did at Walden Pond, to “front only the essential facts of life.” With his New England eye, Makuck sees in this southern terrain a world that is at once particular and universal. Occasionally, the appearance of a fox at his sliding doors or a dark squall invading his piece of the Atlantic Ocean reminds him “I had forgotten it again, / the it that is always.” Always personal but rarely confessional, Makuck walks, a favorite activity, to a fishing pier or sand dune, smelling what he sees, hearing what he touches. In “Cove Point,” irritated, another favorite condition, he hikes out to Cove Point and lets waves, air, and birds wash away the anger, until a skipper on a yacht yells into a skiff swerving into his path. In the presence of such “vast stores of unused quiet,” both poet and captain, petty disturbers, suffer history’s judgment:
On the cove’s far side, guffaws in the long shadows—some Chinese sage laughing an eon away.
However, this Thoreau of the Carolina outer banks, wants to simplify as well, to keep the eye on the thing as it is. In “Into the Frame,” he says,
But stop. Let this place erase everything but itself, water a turquoise radiance,
sand a whiteness that stuns. Just watch the young flood rushing
over ribs and welts, carving new channels, mocking the known.
In the distance a red-and-yellow sail, black patches on the water for clouds.
At your feet a peach-colored canopy, a man in a low chair lost in a book
and teens on a blanket lost in each other. A father and son playing catch. [End Page 189]
This is consciousness holding to the now, as a camera does, framing the world as it happens, which is always new, extending beyond yesterday’s known, and making the eye see without transforming the present into history or myth. Then a fresh picture emerges; all that is jaded and expected disappears.
The title of this collection and its double view come from two separate poems. “Off Season” captures those moments after the tourists have gone, when the world slows down, and solitary walks lead to memories of lost parents and lost ships. The present serves to activate the old feelings “that won’t go away, / and won’t become something else.” Watching a...