- Floyd Skloot: Selected Poems: 1970–2005
Floyd Skloot’s Selected Poems includes his first five books of poetry, each suffused with a profound wisdom and lyric beauty. Skloot embraces life in all its fullness, addressing subjects that our society turns away from, such as death, old age, and severe chronic illness. He not only embraces them but also places them in the wider context of the human journey’s meaning with its simultaneous experiences of joy, wonder, suffering, and transcendence. Poems about his family, music, nature, and art are also themes that pervade his work along with a deep spirituality that runs like a luminous thread throughout the poems. Skloot’s is an extraordinary voice that gains in power over time, one that brings us closer to the mysteries that hover beyond the experiences of our daily lives.
In his first book, Music Appreciation, Skloot reveals his illness with a wry humor. In the poem, “Saying What Needs to Be Said,” the extent of the damage caused by brain lesions is intertwined with reflections on the grace that accompanies all our physical problems. “If the world’s logic / seems skewed, at least my brain has a pure logic / now, a wild crosswired beauty.” He makes clear the extent of his problems: “So I say / broadcast the cremation when I mean to say / microwave the cream of wheat, or say my blood / tests show amnesia, not the more common blood disorder anemia.” His revelations about living with physical restrictions, his lack of [End Page 199] control over the way words and sentences tumble out, and his acceptance and understanding acquire increasing depth and resonance throughout this collection.
His poem “Wild Light,” is not only a celebration of nature, of water grass, wild orange, wild carrot, the pure euphoria of their colors and becoming but also of his own indomitable passion “and as I / once / entered the wild light / and named it love.” Skloot conveys his connection to the natural world with sensuality and images that reverberate, making a cosmos out of miniatures. It is not surprising that he also writes about impressionist paintings.
In “The Evening Light,” we meet Skloot’s mother, an important figure throughout this book. She may be eighty-eight and not an easy woman, yet he portrays her canniness, her ability to always have the last word. In “Her Game,” he writes about her night’s round of gin rummy and schnapps with a friend. “He calls her ‘mother’ / when he is close to losing, / Rosie when winning. She’ll shake / her head and say, ‘Choosing / you was a serious mistake.’ ”
The poem “Channel,” reflects Skloot’s deep understanding of our place in this unfolding universe where disabilities are part of the endless process of becoming that occurs at all levels. “In time the fork my life took / as illness changed its course / will wander to the main stream / and there below the long waterfalls / and cataracts I will begin my rush / to the place where I was going from the start” . . . and the last stunning lines, “I catch hints / of current beneath the surface / just as darkness unfurls. / There I imagine what was lost / coming together with what was gained / to pour itself at last into the sea.” While our society tends to marginalize illness, Skloot regards it as part of the richness of life, a road that is always leading us to new discoveries.
Fiddler’s Trance, his third book, explores the possibilities of the soul by revealing the lives of composers such as George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel, when they had succumbed to illness and the loss of their ability to create. Skloot becomes Ravel as he struggles with aphasia in “Ravel at Swim.” “Something dark has stolen the sea from me. / Always a seal in water, I found its / melodies and swam open harmony / through them. Now I flail. / Nothing I do fits / the rhythms around me.” But Skloot imagines something other than despair in this poem, a way of overcoming, of living in the very essence of his being. “I remember . . . the taste of lamb / roasted for...