Sarah's Reviews > Scale

Scale by Nathan McClain
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it was amazing

“How is it that you misread ‘fire’
as ‘father’-- your father--
come back from the dead,

to sweep, like hard wind, through the building,
to smash, with a Louisville Slugger,
every pastry with which you’d pack

your sweet little mouth, then
flick a lit match into the trash bin?”

Nathan McClain’s debut poetry collection Scale examines fatherhood, vulnerability, and expectations, both from the perspective of a son, and now as a father himself. On the page, McClain’s poems appear concise with clean borders. He’s able to slice through the unstoppable present moment in order to grasp a signifier that artfully emphasizes his point. I found myself admiring this concision-- the way a fire licks a building down to its bones.

In the poem “Ukulele” McClain writes, “What now that your father,/ who taught you neither/ to string nor play the thing// is gone? What now? [...] You don’t know this is called progression; it takes/ a week for the nylon strings to stretch,/ much longer for calluses,/ the good thick ones, big red/ grooves at the ends of your fingers,/ to form. But who tells you that?/ Who tells you that they hurt?/ That you’ll bleed?” McClain captures in an instant the uncertainty a child feels as he gropes to feel closer to a father who’s unavailable. Instead, the pain of learning the instrument gives way to a callus necessary to navigate his life.

And yet, the speaker of the collection never quite sheds his tenderness. In the poem, “Love Elegy in the Chinese Garden, with Koi” the poem concludes with the lines, “I like to think I’m different now,/ that I’m enlightened somehow,/ but who am I kidding? I know I’m like those koi,/ still, with their popping mouths, that would kiss// those hands again if given the chance. So dumb.” Those fish--so trusting and beautiful beyond comprehension--serve as a striking metaphor for a child constantly seeking approval from a parent, no matter how many times they’ve been brushed aside.

In the poem “Used Camero” McClain captures the inevitability of a parent failing his own child: “It’s your daughter’s birthday; she’s expecting/ you, and you’re late: flat tire...The balloons / in the back seat are sinking. The cake/ crumbling. Even if you make it, jeans oil-smudged and streaked,/ you hate to let her see you like this.” There is something refreshing in his transparency: the cyclical nature he’s found in fatherhood, the redemptive power of honesty, but also his longing to be better.

I highly recommend these poems to anyone who is looking for a fresh take on the poetic line and autobiography.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 12, 2017 – Shelved

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