That kid in seventh grade who went overnight from scrawny and skinny to muscled jock claiming he had to shave twice a day. The girl in the pink sweater who moved through the crowded halls of eighth grade like she was parting the Red Sea. The furtive glance at the skinny girl in glasses rewarded with an equally furtive return glance. The physics teacher who was barely this side of crazy. The best friend in high school whom you planned the rest of your life with. And don’t forget the music—the best music ever, with nothing to match it before or since.
Malone doesn’t confine himself to those middle school and high school years. He knows what shapes us is also the landscape we’re born and raised in, and the people who are never more than a few feet away—the grandparents, the mothers, the fathers, the brothers and sisters, the extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and distant relatives whom we’re not sure are really relatives but it doesn’t matter because they’ve been part of the landscape forever. (On my mother’s side of the family, it was a woman named Danella Rose, whom I always thought of as an aunt. She came to all the family gatherings; she gave me and my brothers $2 on every birthday. One day I discovered she wasn’t related but was really one of my mother’s best friends from the church she grew up in.)
And then the love stories, the stories that last, sometimes even longer than the love that inspired them. This wouldn’t be a Dave Malone poetry collection without love poems, and You Know the Ones includes them as well, intimate looks at the love a man has for his wife. Illustrating several of the poems are photographs, old ones, the kinds you find in your mother’s scrapbook, when you realize for the first time that she was once 17 and had dreams.
You read these poems, and you think of where you came from, the joys and horrors of your teen years, and the love you experience for the people you’re closest to. I had a friend just like Mike.
For me the most
It’s Mike. Twig-shaped tough
Who would be, mark his words,
The Crue’s drummer.
The Kansas light
Drummed upon him
On days we shot
Hoops one on one.
But now I know
Time has beaten us
Into days of mildest
And yet on some
Sweet, brooding nights,
The gold of August:
A brisk, slam dunk.
We didn’t play basketball (I was rather hopeless in the sport and a bit too short) but I know what it is to have a friend, “chiseled in time,” locked in those memories of youth and music and new experience and just beginning to explode from a disappearing childhood.
Malone is the author of six other poetry collections: 23 Sonnets (2011); Under the Sycamore (2011); Poems to Love and the Body (2011); Seasons in Love (2013); View from the North 10: Poems After Mark Rothko’s No. 15 (2013); and O: Love Poems from the Ozarks (2015). He’s also published two novels, Not Forgiven, Not Forgotten (2012) and Purgatory: A Good Way to Die (2014), and a two-act play, The Hearts of Blue Whales (2013).
Malone may write about his beloved Missouri Ozarks, but what he writes is universal. Family, friends, geography – these are the things that shape us and launch us, the things that simultaneously hold us and push us away, and upward, and the things that ultimately matter.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish