In Review

How Tightly We are Wound: a look at By Deer Light



Garth Graeper, By Deer Light. Greying Ghost, 2011. handmade, edition of 120. 

In By Deer Light, Garth Graeper challenges readers to accept a premise of conflicting duality by launching into the natural juxtaposition of tenderness and pain. He uses nature’s violence and human tragedy to pull us into the speaker’s chafed mind where “the heat awakens animals in us / calls them to do / things they think / we don't know about.” Graeper shows us how our rational mind allows the animal within to rise and lead us to the dark places we’d otherwise fear to go.

He pauses and grounds us in an image: brothers, a sinking house, a light-ripped forest, an iceberg, and then he leaps. And leaps again, our gut clenching as we are suddenly surrounded by headless children in “The Tunnel” or a family suffocated by fire in “The Park.”  Extreme leaps connected by the barest threads: colors, animals, or even a single resonant sound, like that “of a tongue / bitten off.” Graeper builds tensions with tight, surreal imagery and an inclusive ‘we’ persona that tugs us along and allows only a moment of impact and reflection before we are thrust forward again:

We become both rash and insecure as the constant violence of motion, painful separations, and reconciliations puts a raw edge on our emotions. In “The Woods,” we meet a wounded fox with siblings living in her chest, and we abort them bare-handed, “twist[ing] / their little necks.” Why? We kill “so she can breathe,” and we live the consequences of this killing only briefly. Because now we are a tree, a mountain, a chest cavity, a searchlight sweeping. 

Soon, we are waking animals in winter. And we are rarely alone. Soon, we are intimately connected to the recurring images and internal conflict of the book. “The Park” describes a moment in which the ‘we’ splits, and the resulting ‘you’ cannot even fit into its own body. That feeling of disconnect, of vulnerability and loss draws us in and holds us in the heart of the poem. That moment of naked loneliness and others like it allow us to join the speaker and delve into our selves.

By the end of Garth Graeper’s By Deer Light, we begin to understand how tightly we are wound. We learn how divided we are, how painfully our halves collide, and how necessary each collision is.

—B.C. Mitchell




B.C. Mitchell is an intern at Ghost Ocean Magazine. His poetry can be read in Issue 6 of Ghost Ocean, among other journals.