Scavenger Loop by David Baker
W.W. Norton & Company, 2015; 112 pp
Reviewed by Megan Turner
Then the breakers turning back to brightness, if the light’s
opaque ocean-blue sameness in the sky can be said to break,
the way the waves themselves, blue in back of blue
like color in the eye, fall back to the wall, sea wrack,
driftwood, or the inner optic shelf behind the lens.
The poems in David Baker’s Scavenger Loop express a certain fascination with as well a betrayal by nature. At the start of the collection, the poems portray a wonderment for the natural world, starting with poems such as “Magnolia” and “Errand,” and yet, constant comparison is made between the beauty of nature and the sadness that exists because of it.
“Simile,” for example, describes a moth and then compares it to a martyr. “A field this morning was full of white moths,” writes Baker. He describes their “white wings like paper over flames.” The poem expresses a sort of fascination with the moth and the flame before describing “an ‘unnamed suicide bomber,’” who “took herself into / the arms of flame.” Baker writes:
But there is no likeness beyond her body
in flames, for its moment, no matter its moment.
Yet the fringe bloom burns. Yet the moth shakes
and chews, as in sex.
Even poems in Baker’s collection that are in awe of nature also express a certain bewilderment by it. “Magnolia,” for example, describes the heartiness of the tree, which has “survive[d] ice ages, tectonic uptearing, slow drift.” The facts related to this tree’s survival are given and then questioned. “They shouldn’t be this far north,” Baker suggests more than once.
One of my favorite poems, like most in the collection, expresses a certain amount melancholia. “Errand” describes the birth of a fawn underneath a hydrangea and the sadness related to the event. Baker writes:
I had somewhere
to go. I don’t know where, but
how could it
matter, so much, to go?
Smell of snow an hour
before it falls,
then doesn’t. Soft leather
nose of the fawn, wet in my palm
where it nestled its warm
jaw in. To make
a cathedral (I should have stayed) of such things . . .
Baker’s thesis is best summed up by his title poem, the longest in the collection, “Scavenger Loop.” In this poem, fragments of other poems as well as factual information related to farming, sustainability, and food supply are stitched together in a masterful way that forces the reader to consider the connection between human life and other animals in the food chain. The poem is about death as much as life. In the poem, a mother appears to be dying while the author attempts to make logical sense of this event.
As Baker shares in his notes at the end of the book, many of the lines in this poem are borrowed from other poets, and yet there is a clear originality to the piece. One section reads, “We deny that we are animals and part of the wheel of life, part / of the food chain” while another, earlier line reads, “When I asked what she needed—water—soup— / she said 7UP tiramisu!—”
This piece, like most in the collection, contains not only factual elements but a story of sadness and longing.
Baker’s poems contain some unusual line breaks, interesting facts about the natural world, and a clear attention to the line. The collection is worth reading though, not solely due to these unusual juxtapositions, but also because the poems contain a clear and honest portrayal of the world and our place within it. They are gentle, thoughtful pieces that the reader can find a place inside of. They deserve the sort of careful examination Baker provides when observing the world, sharing a narrative, or looping both together as he so often does.