Every Day, They Became Part of Him (Clark A. Pomerleau)

Reviewed by Emily K. Michael

“Language is our strength.”

This powerful line is tucked into the middle of “Sharp,” a modest poem from Clark A. Pomerleau’s new collection, Every Day, They Became Part of Him. While these poems revisit grief, nature, family, and identity, Pomerleau constantly adjusts the focus, the zoom lens, the intensity of feeling. He offers a panorama of stones, pines, and rivers and follows birds from the ground; he walks beside Walt Whitman and Jericho Brown. And in “Sharp,” he sits us close to a child-self, vulnerable to the heft and angle of language:

He sharpened my tongue
as a weapon against bullying.
Tuned my timbre to ring
with shrewd contempt if attacked.…
I was tender and needed to parry
in defense.

In microcosm, this poem speaks to its neighbors as Pomerleau searches for “crumbs of identity” in a “soup of stories.” Words like “bullying” and “tender” attach themselves to the brave openness that Pomerleau allows in the more challenging poems of this collection. But weaponized language does not cast this book in a haze of violence.

Pomerleau’s style is meditative, gentle, and humane—an extension of the “kindness and fun” he brings to “The First Braid.” Like “Sharp,” this poem is a close-up of childhood: the young speaker chronicles his acceptance into a group of tougher boys. Echoing the cavalier delight of Frost’s “Birches,” this poem resounds with victory. Pomerleau’s young speaker, a determined boy with long braided hair, is welcomed into the play group without sacrificing his identity. Pomerleau writes, “I tucked hair under Dad’s army cap / Until another boy asked to buy it / But I wouldn’t sell my habit.” The speaker gains a place among the others, even if they initially grumble and laugh at him. He earns this place by being inventive and kind: a quiet victory for all who have ever been cast off for their differences of expression. Pomerleau will pick up this spirit again in “Violets.”

The braid form of this poem, which Pomerleau credits to Jericho Brown, influences the collection. The form repeats, but Pomerleau also picks strands from one poem and tucks them into the next. “Appearances” plunges the reader into a home where the mother eschews her culture and the father and son-speaker crave it. Pomerleau grieves the distance between immersion and legacy:

So, Mom cooked from
scentless English books
never traveled so far North or South
until I begged for crumbs of identity
left in Toronto and New Orleans.

In the next poem, “Reunion,” it is the speaker who has moved far from family. Returning for a reunion, he is “self-conscious / in another shiny rental with away plates.” The rental car contrasts with the speaker’s bouquet: “yellow Black-eyed Susans, purple Vetch, / white Daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace.” The capitalized flower names signal a speaker who knows his way in the wild.

Pomerleau speaks to his literal and poetic ancestors. In “Poet of Earth,” he writes an unadorned and sensuous note to Walt Whitman, “who taught us to see the thrush / singing in the lilac / smell sweetness / on the breeze / and pungent scent / on the workmen / as worthy of a longing gaze / as your soldier boys / and streetcar desires.” Like Whitman’s work, this poem mingles natural, sensual, and political awareness; it moves in short strong lines across the page.

Pomerleau leans into the change and loss that medical trauma inflicts on a family in “Hole.” Brief and punchy, this poem narrates a mini-stroke and its consequences, ending with these lines: “Doctors find the hole in his heart. / We plunge in.” If this is the same father from the subsequent “Borrowed, Faded Memories,” we can feel how dear he is—a faithful archivist of family details.

“Insecurely Tethered” catalogs the harrowing effects of mental decline. Pomerleau describes a loved one’s dementia as “frost” clouding the mind: “Groping for words / making up motives / revising histories far from fact / all standard deviations.” But perhaps the real heartbreak lies in the childlike tone of these lines:

The world grows chilly
as she sleeps more and more
waiting to eat, to sit together
never quite believing she got dessert

We grieve with Pomerleau; dementia seems to steal daily joys and dignities.

Whether a relative suffers an everyday memory lapse, like the speaker’s mother in “Borrowed, Faded Memories,” or the life-changing decline of “Insecurely Tethered,” Pomerleau’s book is a lovely balm, a call to immersion in our families and our flowering world. It is a quiet celebration of scent and texture. Pomerleau leans on the strength of language to braid himself into our consciousness—and he leaves several threads at the ready for writers climbing up beside him.

Title: Every Day, They Became Part of Him
Author: Clark A. Pomerleau
Publisher: Finishing Line Press
Year: 2023

Read the Gatherer’s Blog written by Clark A. Pomerleau in this issue of Wordgathering.

Back to Top of Page | Back to Book Reviews | Back to Volume 17, Issue 2 – Winter 2023-2024

About the Reviewer

Emily K. Michael is a blind poet, musician, and writing teacher from Jacksonville, FL. Since 2016, she has edited poetry for Wordgathering. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Wordgathering, The Hopper, Artemis Journal, The South Carolina Review, Nine Mile Magazine, Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics, BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog, Barriers and Belonging, Welcome to the Resistance, and AWP Writer’s Notebook. Her first book Neoteny: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2019) includes a finalist for The Atlantis Award as well as a nominee for The Pushcart Prize. Emily’s work centers on ecology, disability, and music. Emily is passionate about grammar, singing, birding, and guide dogs. Find more of her work at https://emilykmichael.com.