Happily left behind
by John Lofy
The Left Behind series of Christian Apocalypse novels opens with the Rapture, the supposedly promised day when all good people will be taken bodily to heaven before the world faces its last terrible tribulations. The books delight in the slaughter of sinners, and they're dreck. Keith Taylor's new collection of poetry is called Guilty at the Rapture, and though it too leads off with the Rapture, it is terrific. Taylor imagines himself left behind by his holier family members, "alone in a world/of smokers, crooks, murderers/. . . alone in a world/without one hope of grace." He is not just too guilty to make the cut at the Rapture, it seems, but also rapturous to be free from those oppressively good souls.
Taylor, a stalwart pillar of the Ann Arbor writing community (and a regular Observer contributor), has been writing wonderful poems for years. The new book combines older and fresh works, and the result is a vivid, readable collection that is funny, moving, and very alive. Taylor plays all of poetry's themes. There are nature poems, love poems, and growing-old poems. War lurks at the edges, along with the scars of a violent childhood. But his central preoccupation is redemption. Like a character from Flannery O'Connor, Taylor seems to long for and reject it in equal measure. He knows the world is an imperfect place, and he mourns and celebrates its imperfections by turn. In "As Close As We Will Ever Be," he speaks to his dying best friend: "You want the miracles back again/and so do I," but as he helps his friend shave, he admits "I'm afraid of this touch./It's as close as we will ever be." The world, and this poem, can break your heart.
But in "Hockey: An Apology," Taylor remembers bloody, hour-long fights on the ice among "farm kids . . . from cold places." With a note of gratitude, and of close escape, he concludes "they all became/good fathers and never beat anyone." That's the kind of redemption Taylor offers: not heaven, but ordinary goodness in a rough and disappointing world. These poems are gems.
Keith Taylor reads from Guilty at the Rapture at Shaman Drum Bookshop on Wednesday, April 5, and at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore on Wednesday, April 19.
[Review published April 2006]