Measured Extravagance

2000-10-16 - 8:44 p.m.

I first encountered Philip Dacey's writing in an anthology called Pocket Poems that my high school library had acquired. I then forgot about him for years, except perhaps when I browsed through the journals I'd kept back then. (I don't remember where they are at the moment, so I can't supply the particular lines that caught my teenaged fancy.)

Then, in 1994, I came across Lynda Hull's This Only World while unpacking boxes in the back room of the bookstore, and set it aside to read during lunch. I ended up buying both her new book and her earlier one (Star Ledger) -- and Philip Dacey's Night Shift at the Crucifix Factory was listed next to Star Ledger as co-winner of a book award. Well! With a title like that, how could I not seek it out?

You might like this book if you're intrigued by titles such as "Upon His Mailing a Child Support Check to L.L. Bean and a Check for Sleeping Bags to His Ex-Wife." Your sense of humor needs to be irreverent enough to handle, among other things, the image of Jesus sipping Coca-cola while nailed to the cross. Me, I'm probably fondest of the poem where Dacey describes watching a stripper in Minnesota dance to Pachelbel's Canon. It's too long to excerpt here, so I will leave you with the opening and closing lines of "Black Snow":

"My mother used to burn the hair

off her arms at the gas stove.

We could smell it all over the house.

Years later I asked her why she did that,

and she explained a flame was quick

and cheap so why spend money

on a depilatory--the word was hers…

…Maybe when my children are older,

they'll appreciate the smooth way

she went from one job to another,

dragging her arm through the flame

she'd later use to cook our dinner."

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