HAZMAT, meaning “hazardous material,” is an abbreviation familiar from signs at the entrances to long dark tunnels or on the sides of suspicious containers. Here, in a series of stunning poems, J. D. McClatchy examines the first hazmat we all encounter: our own bodies. The virtuosic “Tattoos” meditates on why we decorate the body’s surface, while other poems plunge daringly inward, capturing the way in which everything that makes us human–desire and decay, need and curiosity, the jarring sense of loss and mortality–hovers in the flesh. In the midst of it all is the heart, its treacheries, its gnawing grievances, its boundless capacities.
With their stark titles (“Cancer,” “Feces,” “Jihad”), McClatchy’s poems work dazzling variations on this book’s theme: how we live with the fact that we will die. Crowned by the twenty-part sequence “Motets,” which deals out an exquisite hand of emotional crises, this collection brings us a sumptuous weave of impassioned thought and clear-sighted feeling. Holding up a powerful poetic mirror, McClatchy shows us our very selves in a chilling series of images: the melodrama of the body being played out, as it must be, in the theater of the spirit.
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Published October 22, 2002
Literature & Fiction.