GOOD BEAST
Andrew Michael Roberts

Burnside Review Press, 2015

Andrew Michael Roberts’s good beast suspends the reader in a domestic American landscape complete with beer cans on trailer roofs and “ashtrays / of / punched / snow.” Here, the gods have abandoned humanity, or perhaps, beat us at our game. In the opening series, “death star: a history in fragments,” Darth Vader cleans his gun and smokes beside an “evaporated / pond,” joined by Lucifer, unnamed angels, and grisly characters from a 1980s childhood, like the “unloved neighbor boys, / who take / a blowtorch to / a dead / eagle they / dragged home.”

If some gods act like fallen American heroes, others are palpably absent, as in “anthem”:

when god was
in love,

he looked down upon us
so long

he left a cast of his face
on the film of the sky,

now it fills with
meteorites.

Pacing is everything in these spare poems. Many end with a powerful swerve, shift perspective, or deftly blend humor with sorrow. Their narrow lines, topped by brief, stacked titles, accrete vertically down the page and mirror the reader’s descent into darkness. As an example, “easter / 1982,” composed of six clipped couplets:

they found that
lost girl

six miles
downriver

wrapped in
tyvek

and barbed
wire.

what was
her name?

who
loved her?

While individual poems function through minimalism, the book builds toward considerable depth. Among the most moving pieces is the multi-page “flipbook / of / the / dead,” which recounts the hospitalization and death of “a father at rest / in an electronic bed: / my father, yours, / who once / was frightful, / sipping now / from a shaky cup.”

good beast pairs violence with vulnerability, rendering former deities like cruel fathers or even “that lonely / pedophile / up the road / asleep / in his / red trailer” almost innocent in their mortality. “If you are honest / with yourself,” Roberts writes, “tell me which / of us is not flesh.” The pleasure of glimpsing this human tribe, living alongside our “dark galactic absences,” comes through being carried by Roberts’s syntactically simple phrasing—spareness as an unfolding present tense. What is this America “flung black / against the streetlamp’s / blaring eye”? What are we to make of ourselves as participants? While good beast offers no answers, it positions lyric language as witness—“all we loved and buried”—redemptive and memorable in its tenderness.