Stronger Than the Current, by Mark Thalman, reviewed by M. Ann Reed

Stronger Than the Current by Mark Thalman
The Poetry Box, 2021, 46 pages, $12.00
ISBN: 978-1-948461-75-7
Available at The Poetry Box

The title of Mark Thalman’s chapbook, Stronger Than the Current, emerges from the dominant character trait of Helen McCready, a native Oregonian. When the rising Siuslaw River drowns McCready’s prize tulips, she keeps her rowboat tied to the back porch from which she fishes for salmon. Her patience is stronger than the current (“Mapleton”). Not a patience of necessity for survival, not a patience of placid waiting for the fish to bite, hers is rather a steadfast mindful trust in and love of the remaining beauty, which surpasses necessity.

Patience holds the tensions between opposites in Thalman’s poems which address forestry, deforestation, corporate profiteering, climate crisis, and Oregon’s beauty. In “Logging the Umpqua,” Thalman sinks spurs into bark to climb with history’s Tree Topper, the surgeon who severs fir tree crowns, and we follow as the wind makes long vowel sounds/trying to speak/one word.

The wind’s breath of awe lingers with the pause, yet seems never to end as the Tree Topper spots the downward movement from the mountain:

two field hawks
            patient as gods
            glide across a meadow
            to the far ridge.

Reminded of his risk and the steadying patience of praying, preying hawks, the Tree Topper begins surgical removal and prepares for the leaning fir to spring back forcing him to ride the whipping sway. Even the branches below snap when the crown explodes, and the tree, hundreds of years old, moans. We moan and mourn the loss with the fir, a symbol of patient weathering growth, still offering its sustaining beauty.

This necessary loss, giving the fir necessary sunlight, decrescendos to deforestations’ greater, unnecessary losses, which Thalman compares with a war zone in “Salmon Berry Mountain, 1911.” After cutting the deadly wedge, consequences are double-edged. Leaping like bucks, the men seek safety lest the fir fall crazy,/pounding them with one blow while a tremendous cracking fractures the air, signifying how the whole trunk and broken limbs explode shrapnel, leaving a hole in the canopy of firs, comparable to looking up from /the bottom of a grave. Unnecessary losses sever relationships with beauty, trying the patience that surpasses understanding.

“Logging Camp, 1921” refers to days when the crew carried a body on a stretcher, about which no one dares ask,

As returning from battle,
            hardhats like WW-1 helmets,
            their downcast eyes
            tell the story.

Patience stretches into humbled silence. Such strenuous work, requiring uncanny nimbleness, clear minds, and the patience that quells carelessness leads to the industry as a whole becoming comparable with war, both being “Widow-Makers.” This poem concerns the kind of risk chosen when The hammer is cocked, when Fate pulls the trigger. This fifty-fifty chance that a logger will survive tree-clubbing is the bet against natural law:  A hard-hat can’t ward off/heavy artillery. Tree Toppers begin to hang up their spurs.

Yet backed by corporate profiteering, deforestation increases, causing the climate crisis and further trying patience – the context of “Elegy for a Common Field” and Thalman’s echo of Chekov’s 1897 drama, Uncle Vanya.  Each stanza begins with the verb, “gone”:

            Gone are the deer trails . . .
            Gone is the snag the kestrel used for a perch, . . .
            Gone is the topsoil . . .
            Gone are the goats . . .

 as if the land were a complete poem suffering a brutal erasure to become a scant poem measuring increasing displacement.

In “Celilo Falls,” Thalman invites us to mourn the loss of frothing river cascades/over basalt cliffs where ten thousand generations of men have come to spear Chinook. As floodgates close, the river rises, and petroglyphs, village sites and burial grounds drown under the deep lake created to generate cheap electricity.

Yet there are bright spots.  In “Late July: Harvest,” a giant beast of a combine harvesting wheat could have blindly harvested the doe and her fawns asleep, surrounded by ripe wheat.  But it didn’t. And there are still strongholds of beauty and patient husbandry. “Finley’s Pasture” nurtures four nickering Belgians, ebony titans, and Gravensteins.

Thalman’s patient stream of consciousness overcomes others’ curses of Oregon’s nine-month monsoon season to unfold the beauty and kindness of “Ten Feet of Rain,” Tillamook Forest’s annual rainfall. He features rain as bounty-bringer and the sun’s blessing of raindrops, primary partner of heat and light to create and sustain life on earth:

The sun glistens like salmon scales
            on the tip of an eagle’s beak, decorates
            ends of pine needles with ornaments,
            strips maples of their last gold leaves,
            flakes tumbling in a stream.

Not many view eagles feeding on salmon. Thalman’s keen witness, for us to savor, reveals his very own viewpoint. Rain becomes another muse dancing like a madman across the roof all night. Rain speaks its name through a chant that blesses the forest.  Though this kindness of rain may not faze objectors, it impresses Thalman as freely given noblesse oblige, rewarding nature’s maternity season and the suffering of giving birth to new life.

In Stronger Than the Current, Thalman offers us both a poetics of place and the patience of grace.         

Reviewer’s Bio:

M. Ann Reed offers the Organic Unity/Bio-Poetic Study of Literature in support the Deep Ecology Movement for global and local academic students. Awarded a doctorate in Theater Arts/Performance Studies and a faithful student of C. G. Jung, she served various theater companies as a dramaturge. Her literary essays are cited in the disciplines of medicine, literature, and psychology. Various literary arts journals are homes for her poems: Antithesis, Azure of Lazuli Literary Arts Journal, Burningword, Eastern Iowa Review, Parabola, Paws Poetry, Proverse, Hong Kong Mingled Voices, Psychological Perspectives and The Poeming Pigeon.

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