Earlier this year Thomas Lynch came through town to celebrate the publication of Apparition & Late Fictions, his first collection of stories. And now, at the end of the year, the ever prolific Lynch comes back to introduce us to Walking Papers, his first collection of new poems in over a decade. Although his first career—small-town funeral director—would be more than enough to occupy most of us for a lifetime, Lynch has made a second—acclaimed American writer of poems, stories, and essays—from the stuff of the first.
The title poem of this collection is addressed to a friend who might be a bit overly worried about the minutiae of his health. The poet—who as a funeral director has a certain authority on matters concerning death—reminds his friend that
something’s going to get you in the end.
The numbers are fairly convincing on this,
hovering, as they do, around a hundred
percent. We die. And more’s the pity.
Same for the goose as for the gander, true
for both saints and sinners, fit and fat.
We get our dose of days and after that
we get whatever is or isn’t next:
heaven, remembered, a kick in the ass,
a place in a frame on some grandkid’s piano,
a grave, a tomb, the fire, our ashes scattered,
the scavenging birds, the deep, nirvana—
sure, one oblivion’s good as another.
The cataloging and the quiet humor about mortality are devices familiar to Lynch’s readers. He has been reminding us of our tentative connections to life for thirty years now, and he continues to provide a useful antidote to our anxieties.
But there is something new in these later poems, written as Lynch moved toward and into his sixties. Always a poet to celebrate the little pleasures, he has learned a kind of gratitude for them, a humility before the smallest gifts. That gift might simply be the smells from “Monaghan’s Fish Market” in Kerrytown, which is the penultimate poem in Walking Papers, or a slightly more inclusive reflection, as in “Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets,” the final poem in the collection. Here, after realizing that there are only so many decades that could lie ahead of him, the poet reflects:
The future, thus confined to its contingencies,
The present moment opens like a gift:
The balding month, the grey week, the blue morning,
The hour’s routine, the minute’s passing glance—
All seem like godsends now. And what to make of this?
At the end the word that comes to him is Thanks.
Thomas Lynch reads from Walking Papers at Nicola’s on December 7.