Dos Madres Press
86 Pages; Print, $16.00
Themes of memory and desire, apparitions of past loves and lost loves, illness and aging emerge “on slow wings” from Daniel Shapiro’s bold and moving second collection of poems, The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems. The thirty-three poems that make up this lyrical volume succeed in paying homage to family members, friends, and lovers whose images continue to inhabit the speaker’s emotional and physical landscapes.
The desire for a “Disguise,” (the title of Shapiro’s opening poem) is transformed into a fear that no disguise will prevent the speaker’s face from becoming his father’s: “I see his nose jutting out of / my brow in ten years, / hair becoming yellow-gray and thin.” Later on in “Still Life,” Shapiro’s speaker confronts “the swath of scalp running forehead to crown,” noting how it “defines my age; shadow eats my grin.” This is a book of shadows and light, of wings and flight, as in “Inside Your Shadow,” written about a furtive love—real or imagined—with a married man: “I am the man in the horn-rimmed glasses / and cockatoo hair, the man inside your shadow.”
In “A Black Rose for William,” the poet’s grandfather is depicted as an avid gardener grafting roses until he achieves a perfect black rose, only to be filched from the night garden by an unknown intruder while the family is away one weekend much as the poet himself frequents “unlit parks at night” until
One night I felt my life emergingfluid and wild,converging with his.
Here the “his” might refer to the grandfather or the filcher, as all three of them desire the symbolic black rose and all it represents. In “Numbers and Rooms,” the speaker poignantly confronts his younger self and the time in which he came of age:
Seeking what? Sidling into nights unseen,cruising men with molded torsos guiding their hipsthrough huge underground discos, one-night scenes,
a fraud to myself What else if not herecould eyes dart black pools of mirrors, numbers and roomswhere another pair of eyes waited for me?
With brutal honesty, he confesses how he “began as something shameful, something flawed,” this young man “Too scared of what I was, what I might be, / …“to feel what a man might feel for a man.” And in “Return,” the poet addresses an early lover, recognizing how “I was your listener, / a diversion from myself.” When the two lovers are a Jew and an Arab, as in “Your Name Means Forever,” the poet imagines them “like Ishmael and Isaac, / … / histories joined at Abraham’s root,” yet their “time came and passed / and in a flash, / professed love was the memory of cologne.” Nevertheless, that labile dream of love must be given its due once more, vivid enough for us to imagine, as the speaker once tenderly imagined “a future with a man/who had the profile of a sheikh.”
Along with desire and lust, the specter of AIDS before any treatment existed haunts the world of Shapiro’s poems, for in “This Blue Shirt,” “This cool blue shirt / outlived its owner,” who “learned from / a numbered vial/the news in his blood” and proceeded to kill himself: “Bacardi and Seconal / he gulped down.” Clearly, the man who Shapiro is memorializing here, Miguel Sanchez, must not be forgotten, as the poem reminds us, for we’re told “In every button / I see his eye, / its fabric his skin.”
Shapiro’s opening lines seduce this reader and his closing lines often leave me reeling. In “Phyllis is Bald,“ with its opening line that repeats the title, we’re confronted with a woman suffering from alopecia. Little by little, however, she relinquishes her wigs until
Instead ofthe thing that was missing,instead of old age,instead of rage,she saw a pink, fleshy eggsmiling back at hermysterious and bold.
“In Medias Res” opens upon intimate words to the speaker’s Cuban lover, “My fingers trace your wingbone / down to your...