The Unleashable Dog by Charles Rafferty
Steel Toe Books, 2014; 81 pp
Reviewed by Mark Allen Jenkins
Most of the poems in Rafferty’s The Unleashable Dog are poetic sequence where each title begins with “The Man.” They seems to continue third person poems “the man” from his first collection The Man on the Tower. These persona poems range from everyman figures (“The Man With a Missing Dog,” The Man With a Missing Watch in Spring,” “The Man Explains His Souvenirs” to surreal (“The Man With a Hawk in his Suitcase,” “The Man With Rotten Fruit on His Wrist,” “The Man in Charge of Darkness”). The surreal poems are slightly more successful in their energy, though even the more grounded poems have a certain strangeness about them.
The collection opens with “The Man With a Hawk in His Suitcase,” where a frequent traveler inexplicably packs a Hawk along with his toothbrush and shave kit. It brings a challenge to the man’s routine “he has learned to open the bathroom first,/ for the bird prefers a shower rod, and of course/ it must be fed” but this hawk often interrupts his romantic liaisons as “there is always the chance the hawk will/ mistake her tossing her hair for an animal/ in distress.” The absurdity of someone traveling with a Hawk that only seems to frustrate his affairs makes for comic, if predictable results.
In “The Man on Break,” the speaker, a coroner, smokes a cigarette outside while “She’s waiting for me inside, patient… When I go in, I’ll rubber-glove myself/ and crack her open.” The distant but frustrated voice reveals he has done this many times and wishes there was something someone could have done to prevent a life wasted “I’ll stitch her up tight for the family’s sake—/ who wait with a marble patience/ so they can hide her in the ground.” Reading this book, invokes Randall Jarrell’s persona poems, especially “The Woman at the Washington Zoo” or “The Next Day,”both strong examples of persona poems.
In other poems in The Unleashable Dog, Rafferty brings offbeat curiosity to the quotidian. In “Butcher” the speaker wonders what its like to spend all day at work cutting up animals “how he spends his days/ cutting up animals his daughters would like/ to pet.” Another, “Bismark” considers the town in Nebraska, a place where an unnamed, missing “you” moved to, “maybe you ran out of timing/belt and cash on the city’s frozen outskirts” when in high school, the narrator remembers “your face, I held/ one Saturday night like a bird’s nest/ of balanced eggs.”
Humor, irony, and the surreal, make The Unleashable Dog an enjoyable, if perhaps a little too long, study of various personas.