“Dwellers in the House of the Lord”

“Dwellers in the House of the Lord” by Wesley McNair; David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston, 2020; 66 pages, $16.95

After most of a lifetime of writing exceptionally well-crafted, heartfelt lyric and narrative poetry, Wesley McNair in his new book offers more of the same. “Dwellers in the House of the Lord” is essentially a short novel in verse, extending, in a sense, his 2014 book “The Lost Child: Ozark Poems” <https://www.centralmaine.com/2014/10/02/off-radar-dana-wilde-8/> which comprised narrative poems based loosely on the poet’s own family experiences.

“Dwellers in the House of the Lord” is the somewhat longer story of the narrator and Aimee and Mike, the poet’s sister and her husband, making their way through terrible turbulences of the spirit and, concomitantly, the culture. Mike, a disaffected Navy veteran “with half his life gone to drink,” moves his family to Virginia, where he opens a gun shop catering mainly to angry supporters of Donald Trump. Aimee bears Mike’s own anger for a good long time, leaning on communications with her brother (the narrator) and her hopes for her church community. Then:

 

In the summer of 2016, when Donald Trump

appears like a god from clouds of vapor

at his party’s convention, Aimee disappears.

 

Mike is left bereft and bewildered. There are heart-rending incidents in a megachurch and in Mike’s house which is now empty except for Aimee’s cat. “Meanwhile, mysteriously, Aimee began to forget,” the narrator says, and it becomes clear that she has begun to suffer from a rare form of dementia.

 

… what is my sister, I ask myself

on the winter morning when I receive

the Christmas cards with blank

 

envelopes for my children,

whom she loves, though she can’t

remember their names – what is she

 

but a soldier against losses?

 

The story here, like those in “The Lost Child,” is told exceptionally lucidly, in exceptionally polished poetic lines. The personal and family turbulences are deftly interfolded with the political and social mayhem that afflicts our time. The significances and echoes of those interfoldings are not just figurative, but emotional and moral realities deeply interconnected in the world where we actually live, and they are evoked with forceful sensitivity. “Dwellers in the House of the Lord” is in some ways the story of our time.

Wesley McNair, of Mercer, served as Maine poet laureate from 2011 to 2015, edited the “Take Heart” poetry column for Maine newspapers, and is retired from teaching at the University of Maine at Farmington. Others of his books include “Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems,” “The Unfastening”  and “The Words I Chose: A Memoir of Family and Poetry,” among others. “Dwellers in the House of the Lord” will be launched in April and is available for pre-order from online book sellers.

“The Vigilance of Stars”

“The Vigilance of Stars” by Patricia O’Donnell; Unsolicited Press, Portland, Oregon, 2019; 278 pages, paperback, $17.

University of Maine at Farmington professor Patricia O’Donnell’s second novel, “The Vigilance of Stars,” turns mainly on the life of a young hairstylist living in contemporary Portland who early on discovers, much to her ambivalence, that she is pregnant. Kiya’s boyfriend, Peter, an aimlessly philosophical, artistic young fellow, is not in the category of serious about the relationship overall – he is, like we say, self-centered and aloof. Kiya’s choppy waters get rougher when she decides to dive into the situation head first and make friends with Peter’s mother, Maddie, who works as a secretary in a university history department.

Meanwhile, back in 1950s western Maine, Evelyn has been struggling with cancer and a romantic breakup. She gets up the courage to introduce herself, somewhat timidly, to Wilhelm Reich at his research center outside Rangeley. Reich, a real-life Jungian psychologist, explored orgone, which he believed to be a naturally abundant energy related to sexuality that could be harnessed to, among other things, treat cancer (causing him dire legal problems). “Evie” decides to undergo treatment in Reich’s orgone accumulator.

The main characters’ various journeys come together one narrowly focused scene at a time, character by character, with the principal emphasis on Kiya. Most of the narrative is in the present tense, in which the action is taking place right now as you read, rather than in the past, creating an unusual, insular effect across a novel-length work.

Patricia O’Donnell, of Wilton, is also the author of “Gods for Sale,” a collection of short fiction; “Waiting to Begin,” a memoir; and “Necessary Places,” a novel. “The Vigilance of Stars”  is available online and through local book stores.

 

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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