“At his table, my dead father sat in the green sleeveless jacket with orange on the inside. Or now and then the jacket was reversed, depending on whether he was hunting me or hiding.”
— David Keplinger, “Embarrassment”
“Another City: Poems,” by David Keplinger, constructs worlds with fewer lines than you’d believe, deftly painting pictures with thin, precise brushstrokes. The slim collection is an even mix of prose, poems and more stylized verses that depend on their enjambment and deliberate spacings to convey their point. Themes are varied but matching. Some of the prose poems — “My Town” in particular — sound almost like a mix between Mitch Albom and Thornton Wilder. Some tell stories of the narrator’s father, simultaneously introspective, detached and whimsical.
Many of the works easily capture the point of view of a child, slipping into dialectical and observational patterns that evoke both nostalgia and protective tenderness, while others convey the peculiarities of being or wanting to be a parent — or acting in a way that a parent does. The arc of giving in “Citizen Small,” in which the narrator used to crumple in feigned surprise for laughs, gracefully unfolds downward, until the speaker is left unable to pick himself easily back up (perhaps a pointed metaphor, vaguely reminiscent of “The Giving Tree,” but a beautiful piece nonetheless).
The best poems in “Another City” are reminiscent of snapshots. “City of Youth” distills all of the salient sentiments that come from holding the edges of an old photograph, peering into faces that can no longer peer back. “Wave” imagines a moment of Abraham Lincoln’s journey on a train, leaving Springfield in 1861, a sepia-toned image deftly painted with but a few carefully designed brushstrokes. Another poem, “A Young Man’s Copybook: 1861-1864” (and the following few) is written after the journal of his great-great-grandfather, who fought for the Union Pennsylvania Volunteers and was later incarcerated for desertion after his discharge papers were stolen. The melding of historical snippets and imagination is cleverly and sensitively done. “V-Sign” offers a surprisingly congruent relationship between the crumpled stockings on the ground, and birds in the sky. “Marie Curie’s Century-Old Radioactive Notebook Still Requires a Lead Box” is a tribute to the scientist’s passion for her work.
The beauty in “Another City” is subtle; crystal-clear images shine out from a muted color palette of material. Keplinger’s voice is perhaps above all musing, appraising pain, decadence and loss with an unclouded eye.