February 10, 2009

Review by Michael Morell

LOOKING FOR AN EYE
by Peter Krok

FootHills Publishing
P.O. Box 68
Kanona, NY, 14856
ISBN: 0-941053-54-7
2008, 74 pp., $15.00
www.foothillspublishing.com

In Looking For An Eye’s title poem, the first poem of the book, Peter Krok wastes no time getting right to the heart of his subject matter:

Fumbling in the dark, always looking
for an eye, he hurls stones
at his shadow. Voices startle him.
A stranger keeps stalking.
Each time he seems to see,
a finger pokes his eye.

Krok opens up his metaphysical lens and invites readers to look at the world through the poet’s eyes, their own eyes, and the eyes of something greater. And readers are invited to also look within. In Jungian psychoanalysis, “shadow work” is searching for the pieces of ourselves we have hidden away from the world and eventually away from ourselves. This type of work takes a keen eye, constant awareness, and maturity, all traits that can be found in Krok’s writing.

Hurling a stone may seem like a drastic thing to do to one’s shadow, but chances are the shadow has been growing and layering the better part of a lifetime. In “Corners,” we come across a child gazing out a window at a Joan of Arc statue:

He wonders what it takes
to be a hero or a friend.

What makes him different,
he asks again and again.

His fingers press a globe,
How is life in Australia?

The counselor said,
He’s afraid of his own shadow.

So much he doesn’t understand.
He keeps raising his hand.

A boy should be afraid of his shadow, that part of him developing in which he places things adults don’t like–his fears, his anger, maybe his artistic gifts or his constant questions. Most certainly, “what makes him different” will be placed in shadow land.

Krok’s sparse style is well suited for these imagistic poems, the hands and shadows woven throughout the book.

“Lost” gives the reader six simple lines:

A red glove
on a city bench

waits a partner,
a hand.

I have known
such loneliness.

The imagery leads us in all directions: is the empty hand as lonely as the empty glove? Is the red glove the shadow into which we hide ourselves? The loneliness the poet “knows” is not necessarily loneliness from others, but a loneliness from the self, from the buried-over parts of a boy “afraid of his own shadow.”  Because we bury both darkness and light in our shadow, Jung wrote of finding gold there, unearthing our personal gifts.

Krok never seems lonely as long as he has his questions to comfort him. In “Questions,” we are introduced to a solitary man:

A clear blue night.
I walk alone…

I put a hand in my pocket
and pull out a thread
that unravels a string of
Questions. The more I pull,
the longer it grows,
like a vine in the earth.

In the tradition of Chinese Zen poetry, large and looming questions about the meaning and purpose of life get answered in the smallest of details. In “Second Shift,” he observes:

You want to break
the dull decline of days slipping
through the stubborn hole in life
but your knuckles aren’t strong enough.

Later, in “Hands Of A Ball-Bearing Worker,” a father comes home from working second shift:

Those hands knew the certainty
of the lathe and brutal steel
and warmth of small hands
holding a dog’s leash in a park…

His coming would close the evening;
the house could ease until tomorrow.
So night and day would go on, go on;
those hands knew what was required.

I am reminded of the title of Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s book, After The Ecstasy, The Laundry. What’s a person to do after enlightenment? Laundry is a good start, or perhaps sweeping the floor. While deep inside us there can be that longing to “break the dull decline of days,” whether we break it or not there remains work to be done, work that flows through our precious hands. It’s a wonderful lesson that Krok passes along without being preachy, or even seeming like he’s giving us the answer. Here is a red-brick Zen master wandering the landscapes of Philadelphia and its suburbs, swimming deep into the mind’s eye, observing and writing koans for anyone prepared to stop and think.

People often turn to poetry for answers, but Krok muses in “Remembering A Friend:”

I have no answer for the dusk;
I have no answer for the smile
that once sunned its healthy innocence
on these green, sprawling Poconos.

There is no answer as to why a young man of twenty-four would die. There may be no answer; however there is always observation, awareness. Like an intimate friend who lends a comforting ear in time of tragedy, a friend who has no answers but “merely” listens, Looking For An Eye lends the world a comforting eye.

Krok’s questions are peppered throughout the book and come at perfect moments, like silence in good conversations. In “The Peeling,” he asks:

Do the consequences of our questions
make us who we are? Is the skin
but a layer of our appearance?

This last question is particularly fitting for a book looking at the layered light and shadows of life. And Krok knows what any Jungian analyst knows: we begin by asking questions, and then we observe, we witness, which allows us to experience our thoughts and feelings without letting them take control of us.

Perhaps this is why Krok moves beyond the book’s style and tone for his last poem, a grand-scale 9/11 poem titled “The Windows.” Though the familiar images remain, the poem’s prose style and theme shocked me. On first read I felt that this poem was out of place, if not in the book itself then at least as the final poem. But now, after several readings, I find it has that quiet click Yeat’s looked for in the editing of poems. A husband and wife have watched for two days the non-stop media coverage of America ’s worst tragedy. With the wife at her wit’s end, no longer able to stomach staring at the television, she talks about getting chores done around the house:

While the nation wept, we wiped windows.
Amidst the rubble firemen looked for signs of life.
So much had changed. We just touched the surface.

As observers, we spend our lives touching the surface of things. The important question to ask is: what layer are you touching?

____________

Michael Morell lives and writes among the rolling green hills of Chester County, PA. His poetry has appeared in Comstock Review, One Trick Pony, Slipstream and Pearl. Past awards include third place in Paterson Literary Review’s Allen Ginsberg Awards. Work is forthcoming in Philadelphia Poets and miller’s pond.

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