Reviewed by Jeanne Yu
Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines
AE Hines’s first collection, Any Dumb Animal, is a heartful lyrical memoir that centers around three pivotal “Phone Call” poems that open sections entitled “Revival,” “Regret,” and “Rebirth.” Hines revives a myriad of memories: growing up gay with a father who fails him, revisiting his own relationship that ends in divorce, and the wonders of his own adopted son. His unflinching exploration results in self-illuminations that leap off the page touching all that is human.
Hines beckons us to examine what love is and what it is not. In “My Father’s Son,” no sense is left untouched as he describes “the electric fence on my uncle’s farm, /how my father told me to grab hold of the naked wire, /so that I might remember, he said, so that I could learn.” In this opening section, Hines invites us to join him in this “Revival”:
I am thirteen and my grandmother
is calling me down to the altar
to stand before them
in the wide green clearing.
Here “revival” takes on the meaning of renewed attention to past moments, that of “Idle Worship” in rhythmic, emotive images and form:
as withered marigolds take flight,
then fall like rain.
Images also delight the mind’s eye in sad poignant moments as in the description of a sock drawer in “Gay Divorce”:
It would be this orgy
of color we’d have such trouble breaking apart. The sad
pineapple and banana, the smiley sun-face emoji,
neon marijuana leaves decorated in confetti
Hines’s heart presses ever forward in the spirit of revival in “Above and Below” when he writes:
Downtown towers rise like cairns
from the city rubble, and I marvel
at the October geese
flitting across the steel horizon,
one dotted line of music
playing forever westward.
This collection maintains its intensity into the second section, “Regret.” Each poem is a lament of a different nature. Hines explores a spectrum of poetic forms successfully punching the tension of couplets in “Every Body Lies” and the heavy dance of tercets in “Winter Solstice.”
His metaphors also resonate in poems such as “Midday Train”: a mid-life reflection.
the amber fallen leaves
ablaze on the current
floating away into our past,
as we, in our metal,
speed off into the future.
The range of Hines subject matter and his courage to experiment across the emotional landscape draw us in. He convinces us that sometimes the simple pleasure “After Reading That Americans Are Having Less Sex” holds its strength in the nakedness of the lived experience, rather than the imagined sexuality.
The chronology of Hines’ collection can be confusing at first; however, on further examination, we begin to realize that revival, regret, and rebirth are not one’s life trajectory, but a continuous series of arcs in a lifetime. In his final section, “Rebirth,” he demonstrates early and late rebirth. In “Seventeen,” he writes:
So we kept my secret
like an escaped convict
harbored in our basement
the convict made his escape
Later in that life, when he becomes a parent, Hines realizes, This morning, yelling at my son, the sound / of my own father rattles from my throat (“Mirror”).
Get ready. Any Dumb Animal talks directly to us and will turn us inside out. This collection lets us see the harsh realities of a world when we do not turn out to be what others wanted us to be. But with determination, Hines also sheds hope that we can turn out to be who we are. As he writes in “From Our Train Window I’m Watching the Hills and Trees”:
that’s how the light finally gets in
and the soul gets out – that, in the end,
you say, what makes them so beautiful.
Jeanne Yu is a poet, mom, engineer, environmentalist, and coach, who is currently pursuing an MFA at Pacific University. She was a recently selected as a semi-finalist in Rattle’s 2021 poetry contest. Her engineering work also appears in a number of technical publications.