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Night with Drive-By Shooting Stars, by Jim Daniels

Night with Drive-By Shooting Stars is the beautiful collection in which author Jim Daniels contemplates the passage of time, reflecting on his growth from a youth restless in a small Midwestern town to a loving father and husband trying to absorb and draw out each fleeting moment with his family.  Daniels handles his subjects – from teen drug use and first sexual experiences to his wife’s pregnancy and a friend’s cancer diagnosis – with a subtle sensuality and with a tone that is consistently compelling in its gentle honesty.  He hints at melancholy in a way that is both controlled and beautiful; but also infuses darker scenes with tinges of hope.

In “Drying Out,” for example, Daniels draws a metaphor between lighting wood in a stove to coping with alcoholism in a brief commentary on the slow beginnings of communication both in a foreign country (here, Italy) and between romantic partners.  An excerpt:

Finally, I handed her a letter about drying out,

how booze had given me a spark,

humor and confidence, goodwill and friends,

lovers. And who was I without it?

I stood outside cutting wood. Sun and work

warmed me. I took off my down vest,

the second skin of that cold-stone winter.

She creaked open the thick wooden door

and stood beside me. It wasn’t as simple

as stone and wood. What is true

is that we learned enough of the language

to get by. We stacked blood oranges in a bowl.

The wood dried so slow we barely

noticed it, but it dried nonetheless.

And it burned.

Daniels also examines the role of poetry and the written word throughout his life, first from “the drone of old English poets/ telling us some shit about love” in high school in “Red Vinyl,” to the “sweat, to fill one page” later on in “Helping with My Brother’s Résumé,” and finally to the reconsideration of his wife’s pregnancy – “When you were pregnant/ I should have used more commas and fewer/ periods” – in “Lately.”  The first of these meta-poems that caught my attention was “Teaching Poetry to the Deaf.”  An excerpt:

I read their poems, the absence of sound.

Missing words. Deaf mistakes,

the teacher explains, filling in,

my guide through this silent land.

Daniels sets vivid scenes whose metaphorical value is evident without the addition of telling words.  The tendency toward narrative descriptions that expose the power and meaning of quiet, private moments in my own poetry drew me to this collection.  Daniels brings us in to his most intimate memories and allows us both to know him and to relate to him with our own experiences.

Reviewed by Courtney Woodburn.