Reviewed by Emily Hunt
The puzzle of death his architecture, Dan Chelotti has created a kingdom creased down the center, energized by sparrows, rain, and circling wolves. The Eights, composed of four multipart poems, begs extensive devotion: one, two, even five readings are not enough. Lines such as “there is something orange about every woman” and “you are the kingdom that sweats from my eyes” echo long after the reader stumbles upon them for the first time. These “words spun to ignore the dying” put readers in a trance comparable to the writer’s own hypnotic state: “I must follow the eights for the eights want me to follow.”
Once the reader soaks in the array of resonant images in The Eights, he or she begins to notice Chelotti’s methodical approach to structure. In a significant number of his lines, he uses a word or phrase twice. In these cases, the second half of a sequence mirrors the first: “Be done with it. Be done with it. / Look for clouds and see clouds.” For Chelotti, “folding [is] a given.” He speaks of a “dead father made of father,” a “rat-filled hut / That says from every song emerges another song,” and a desire to “carve a man from another man.” This recycling directly relates to the writers’ interest in the circle: “I’ve spent many years attempting the perfect free-hand circle.” Reader, writer, and poetic figure are subject to such loops. A recurring image of wolves orbiting a fire determines the pace of this collection. One naturally thinks of vultures circling the dead, of seasons blooming and melting, and of a man traveling the curve of a question only to find himself back at the launch of its dissection.
Chelotti “refuse[s] the world its right to be flat.” He finds doors within doors, questions inside answers. Unfolding this mystery he’s named “the eights,” he recognizes that to believe in something is to let it go: “I have an idea / And it dies whenever I say it. / I have you. You live even when I’m quiet.” Chelotti looks for the dead in small mumblings of the living, in “deer sniffing around [an] outdoor toy train setup,” in sheep chewing on grass until the green leaks out of it, and in the shadows that dirty the world. He detects that the losses he cannot see weave their way into the objects that surround him. Someone out there is dying now, and now, and within the completion of each of the speaker’s circles around a “dust-ridden bowl of oranges.” The energy left behind by the dead subtly replenishes pieces of his environment that had gone limp, still, or silent. In the fifth section of “An Anthem for Three Thousand Voices,” the “runners say they grow stronger / when the river claims another tooth,” and at the moment that “another powerline drops . . . a small boy with a stick suddenly rules their world.” Such brighter minutes stretch readers taut, remedying the sagging that ensues with the news of death.
At times, Chelotti speaks bluntly, and through raw confessions the reader grasps his exhaustion with recurring loss:
I’ll tell you: it’s easier this way
Because people die and I hate that.
Because people pretend to love death
And even the sparrows laugh at them.
I hate them more than I hate the dead.
He asks for two graves--one in which he can bury his fear, and the second in which he can lie next to it. These poems do not tire the reader, despite their bleak subject matter. If anything, the reader extracts fuel from Chelotti’s striking language; he or she cannot help but spread the little book wider and return to its opening image of a sliced, “steam[ing]” trunk to take on “the eights” once more.