No pastoral poetry is complete without a lamb, and in the poetry of Gabe Fried we find that lamb, and that field, front and center. Achingly exquisite with formal splendor, Fried's poems echo Thomas Hardy, or that American school of quietude that harkens back to a time of less media and cultural saturation and disconnection. I'll have more to say after seeing the whole, but having read much of the poems individually I can attest to the complexity and verbal precision, the polish, depth of feeling and intellectual engagement. This poetry comes from many angles all at once and all with great care and skill. A long time coming, this collection, and worth the wait. Congrats, Gabe.
Here is the title poem:
Making the New Lamb Take
The skin is only perfume now.
It won't take seed and grow: cells
clot like sand, the vellus curling
from both ends in tendrils.
We have lifted it--careful--off,
waiting for a breeze to taper until air
is no enemy, dried sheets tugging
down the line. Underneath is flesh too
fresh for day, like eyes that spend
the hours mining in dream or lamplight
Working there, while at it, we hear
the mourning ewe from the bluish fields
she wanders--a harbormaster
who has ruined single-mindedness.
And though it doesn't do one stitch
of good, we think of her.
We cannot tell her it is not her doing,
knowing how our own don't always live,
or won't live well.
We cannot lie, even in our lingual tongue,
which must make muddled sense
to her, at best--one stray sound
among many sticks, then ticks off
into the chasm.
Instead, we bind the fleece
to the back of another: young, just
seeing, of a more prosperous mother
who's tired from all the mouths at her.
We tie the flapping ankles tight
with hemp, then hood the head over:
both mouths now silenced.
This disguise was never meant
for sight, so we guide them,
the old aroma warming underneath,
leash taut with mute resistance.
They say the ewe will come to love
him after weeks; I have my doubts.
But underneath the clouds—like clouds
themselves, led by contrary winds—
we lead them into fields
and make them lie down.