How does a child grow up when the father in the family is an alcoholic? How does a child respond when his alcoholic father abuses his mother? In such a situation, where does a boy look for a role model, or is his alcoholic father the role model?
Poet Chad Abushanab doesn’t ask these questions directly in his debut poetry collection, The Last Visit. But he might have, since he answers them in the poems. Many are written in formal, rhyming verse, oddly heightening the sense and meaning of the poems. A formal, rhyming, metered poem about your father’s alcoholism? A poem about your mother’s split lip, and how she’d take you and your brother to buy a cheap toy after a violent episode? Or beating up another boy because you’re trying to prove something to your father?
Yes, the poems are about all of these things, and more.
swallows back his shock and tears.
It’s me who picked the fight,
and I’ll carry on this way for years.
I pack a solid right
left bloodied by his broken lips.
I life my arms to play
the victor, satisfy the script.
But before I walk away,
back home where my dad swills gin,
curses game-show hosts,
and trucks of smuggled Mexicans,
I know I’ve made the most
of fear. Today I am a man.
My dad will sure be proud.
The rest, stunned silent when this began,
Are cheering, wild and loud.
A cry, almost a howl, arises from this poem. A boy has learned how to be a bully, to pick fights and beat up other boys, to earn the love of his father, who’s back home swilling gin and hurling insults at the television. And it seems to work, until the next time, and the next time after that.
These poems are about loss and brokenness, about wanting and needed something that can’t be found. The brokenness in the boy’s family extends to their town, with empty buildings, missing children, idle quarries, and shabby affairs.
Abushanab is the winner of the 2018 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. His poems have been published in publications and journals as The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, Best New Poets, Birmingham Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review, Shenandoah, The Hopkins Review, and others. He received a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from Texas Tech University and is currently an associate editor of the Iron Horse Literary Review. This is his first published collection of poetry.
In The Last Visit, Abushanab takes a painful look into the life of an alcoholic’s family. What is hopeful about it is that it is a forced look, one that plumbs the depths of hurt and pain, to reach understanding.
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
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