- Reaching for Sky
University of Akron Press
99 Pages; Print, $15.95
It isn't every day that one is forced to consider the wild creature that lives within. In fact, we try not to think about the ways in which we hurt others, but Tyler Mills doesn't care to keep things caged. In Mills' latest book of poems, Hawk Parable, readers find themselves introspectively examining their own predatory ways, while Mills calls forth the actions we take to try to conceal this consumptive and destructive animal both figuratively and literally. On a deeper level, Hawk Parable redefines predation in one sentence, "We once considered ourselves a powerful culture" in the poem "Repository," searing into the inherently destructive nature of America and war on a global scale. In quality and quantity, this book is a ninetynine page all-you-can-eat buffet of intertwining personal, ancestral, and historical lessons that keep readers starving for more.
The book is divided into seven sections, with each nuancing the last to accrete Mill's exploration of ethical use of atomic weaponry. Even in surrealism, Mills, potentially the speaker, interrogates her family at every opportunity. In an interview with New Mexico Highlands University, where Mills teaches a number of writing-related courses, she confessed, "My grandfather died, and I haven't been able to confirm his role yet
through research. His story became the catalyst for my poetry that explores this mystery, as well as the atomic tests in New Mexico, Nevada and the Marshall Islands."
In "The Muse Appears in My Kitchen," an intimate conversation is at play. She writes, "Let's unbraid your hair, wet for bed, / and comb it loose. Let's talk like sisters. / See this photo? The pilot half stands—/ summer making shadows / of the grains in his cheek." Here, an imagined conversation has occurred, but moreover, the gesture of these lines has turned the entire first section into an invitation for readers into Mills' family's personal mystery. The idea is reiterated in "Nagasaki" as Mills writes:
Once, when we visited my grandfather, he spread his hands over the placemats, palms up. This is the plane
They interviewed me to do it. I was there, in one of the other planes, I remember him saying.
Now, we have the mystery: did Mills' grandfather participate in dropping atomic bombs on Nagasaki, a question that has consumed Mills and readers too? The lyrical forms of these poems make readers wonder about the history of their own families.
As Mills' research unfolds, we start to realize a deeper question nagging: what does it mean to be complicit? "Song Pulled From a 1954 National Geographic" answers that question with this:
Hold your breath against what you can't hear or see.A doctor may ask you to drink one of the vials.
Through an open lid, a beam of neutrons will release.The energy in my bones invites my ghostsin. [End Page 23] Let's wing the thing a doctor asks. Drink. Drink.The body can be made again, transparent.
Full of scientific description, long couplets, and careful word choice, this lyric poem implores us to believe that nothing is permanent, and no matter how irreparable it may seem, there is a way to make something new of the damage as long as we are hellbent on discovering the truth. And that truth is we are all hawks, but when we try to capture what it is inside that needs to prey, we can't. Diane Seuss eloquently sums this observation as thus: "Mills' impeccable craft and her tender care of the image strike me as the opposite of the indiscriminate violence of a bomb, but the parable of the hawk claims a more nuance truth—that we are predators composed of feathers 'trimmed by the light."' It's in craft that Mills takes this book to the next level. Mills uses formal poetic moves with the precision of a surgeon. In "'Mike' Test" the consonance of cleverly crafted lines makes the final couplets satisfying to mouth almost as a juxtaposition to the horror of the subject...