Alex Z. Salinas reviews Charlie Brice's recent book of poetry.
An Accident of Blood
Charles W. Brice
It could be the case that Wyoming native Charles W. Brice is a water poet. That is, a poet who peers into lakes and oceans and witnesses there — in addition to schools of minnows, the memory of his father accidentally hooking the nape of his mother while fishing — the rotting brilliance of humanity in its pearlescent unglory. Throughout his collection, An Accident of Blood, I often asked myself: “What does Mr. Brice hear in the sound of cold waves, stillness?” Also, and more important: “Do I really want to know?”
The opening poems in Accident find the author grasping to understand his childhood filled with magical thinking and town gossip, as well as agitated nuns who must deal with unruly schoolboys. In “I Think Her Name Was Sadie: A Threnody,” Brice recalls a teammate on his high school basketball squad desecrating a woman’s grave.
“I’m so glad I wasn’t there / to see the six-foot seven center / … hold her skull in drunken glee”.
“A Plague of Light” begins:
“Under that blinding sun / only a murder seemed right. / Was I the stranger or was it / the sunlight in Cheyenne / whose daggers penetrated every / corner of our house?”
A couple of stanzas down, Brice quotes his mother:
“‘We’re big fish in a small pond, / my mother loved to say.”
In another poem, “What I Learned from My Mother,” it is gut-wrenchingly this:
“Don’t be smart. / Don’t learn too much.”
Where Brice’s family often failed to connect with the budding deep thinker, the soon-to-be writer, he sought literature — supreme Band-Aid — to fill and close the gaps within himself.
In “The Smell of Home in Wyoming,” an eight-year-old Brice remembers straightforward advice from a friend’s dad.
“Al, Joe’s dad, taught me never to walk / behind a horse without patting its butt / to let it know I was there.”
By the end of the poem, Brice propels a simple childhood memory,
“Hay in the barn — / the smell of home in Wyoming,”
to an existential, linguistically charged stratosphere:
“And now Al gone, Joe gone — / no one left to hear this poem.”
It is this concern with language — as well as his audience, or lack thereof — that preoccupies Brice as he takes readers on the journey of the rest of his life, as a conscientious objector in a Denver hospital in the 1970s (perhaps explaining Brice’s numerous death-obsessed poems, especially evident in, “Death and the Miser”) to a wizened poet ultra-critical of the Trump administration (read: “Wiretap Tweets — The Definitions”), which he sometimes handles with satisfyingly acidic humor akin to Charles Bukowski or Billy Collins — both influences on his work.
Brice is not without offering his own advice to readers. In “Breathe,” dedicated to the late Anthony Bourdain, he writes:
“The pleasures of this world are simple / and mostly free. / Remember them in those desperate moments. / Honor them with your presence. / Breathe.”
Brice, who stated in a 2016 interview that he is “an atheist who is a Buddhist,” uses the geography of multiple pages in Accident to tackle the notion of God. In “Hitching Post,” the poet concludes with this striking stanza — one of many pitch-perfect voltas throughout his collection:
“Now Old God is post-temporal. / Everything, even this poem, is in the past. There is no now that we can grasp: / … Even Old God is post-god, / absent at the moment / of his presence.”
With provocative finishing lines like that, the bad Catholic in this reviewer can firmly proclaim that Brice, a retired psychoanalyst, is one water poet whose wide-ranging poetry is well worth swimming in.
Alex Z. Salinas lives in San Antonio, Texas. He is the author of two full-length poetry collections, WARBLES (2019) and DREAMT, or The Lingering Phantoms of Equinox (2020), both published by Hekate Publishing. His poems, short fiction and op-eds have appeared in various print and electronic publications. He holds an M.A. in English Literature and Language from St. Mary's University