Fred Marchant views the inexplicable and gives us the air it breathed in his poems in Said Not Said. I have been looking at this book, reading it, studying with Marchant, and looking at it again for the past three years. Most of that time I worked as a graveyard-shift custodian cleaning university buildings. Now, I live at my parents’ and take care of the both of them during the days of the pandemic. What Marchant sees in his life is revealed in this book. He sees what is not fair. He sees reality but events he cannot control. Here we are in 2020: sitting ducks. Marchant’s poems get into the feeling of this but also access the profound stability of peace and understanding. In “Fennel” he writes:
At the end maybe you were thinking
of Whitman and his claim that dying
was luckier than we had supposed.
Or not. Or not. Here is the bee . . .
Marchant shows us that nature with a capital N intercedes, maybe not to change the course of events he witnesses, but to carry an event to another place, a different emotion.
The poems “King Chestnut,” “Quitter’s Rose,” and the titular poem, “Said Not Said” all feature young characters striving for honor and the upholding of tradition. What happens here is a shift in the expected outcome, a twisting of the usual unfolding of events in the examination of violent ritual. A chestnut game of trying to crack two of them open by an opponent looks like an innocent scene, “. . . we had no name for the game . . .” of dominance. The chestnut in the cigar box with pictures of royalty becomes wrinkled. It requires metal in order to be strong, it requires the reinforcement of “. . . the screws / and washers, for a king chestnut.”
“Quitter’s Rose” features a young military recruit having to climb up a rope, only to come down with a ripped up hand. At the end of the poem, the “rose” is what is in his palm, a wound that is nearly Christ-like in its bloodiness and telling of sacrifice. We see how the vulnerable are a little dumb, and the mystery of survival is illuminated in the way Marchant is able to expose a younger self to scrutiny:
. . . I let go . . .
. . . I landed unhurt . . .
I felt giddy with relief, as if I had come
back alive, maybe even won a medal.
In the poem “Said Not Said,” especially the first section, “The Teacher,” Marchant deftly brings us back to the character of a boy in school “. . . staring / at what look like chicken scratches” and how we (adults, readers, judge, and jury) are “. . . left to wonder at the spell the unsaid casts/over them all . . . ” The mystery is the mystery of peace or of non-action as an act or action. Marchant is one to meditate with, because what is unsaid is the work of healing resolution.
Said Not Said by Fred Marchant. Graywolf Press, 2017.
Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson’s first book of poems is Mezzanine, from Finishing Line Press, 2019. She also has work forthcoming in Sleet, and another book from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Oregon.