Reviewed by Dakota R. Garilli
In the America that Nahshon Cook’s Communion inhabits, the outside world is always blaring through our car radios, flooding our phone screens, and breaking into our personal lives. It’s a country of grief and sorrow, where issues of race and health (both mental and physical) take the forefront, but it’s also one of unexpected joy. Cook teaches us in these poems that, without the connective tissue that brings us together with our communities and loved ones, there would be no way—no point, even—to wake up in the morning.
This collection is most successful when it blends the personal and the public. While poems like “Self-Portrait as Joe” or “A Poem About B.” might be too intimate for all readers to access or find meaning in, we also get moments like “A Story My Mom Told Me.” Here, a neighbor’s crisis is recounted almost as an everyday event in the life of the speaker’s mother. We are reminded that a pivotal moment in one person’s life can still be somewhat unmemorable in the grand scheme of things, that our most daily of interactions might still be the one that has a great impact. Throughout Cook’s collection, ordinary moments turn extreme while the extreme become ordinary, with poetry as the great equalizer.
Communiondisplays Cook’s talents for documenting voices, revisiting the same moments again and again to find new and deeper meaning, and recounting moments perfectly so that the unexpected is thrust into our sight-line. In “A Story B. Told Me About When He Was in College” and “The Old Lady Sitting Next to Me on the Plane Ride back to Denver: 2,” sexual assault and aging are explored quietly and authentically as moments in the lives of people our speaker has met. Two series that include poems like “Evening News” and “Kit Goes to Hospice” show us the stages of grief unfolding, returning us all to the constant past and present tense that we experience upon losing the people we “knew / and love.” And meanwhile, among all this, there is still somehow the hate and ignorance that emerge in moments like this one from “Eric Garner:”
As the car neared
a small crowd
of loud white voices rang out
from one of the windows
of the tall red brick
opposite Auraria campus,
egging the driver on
to run us over.
As K.C., a young boy with Asperger’s whom the speaker mentors, says in one of the collection’s self-portrait poems, “I thought you were only supposed / To make a mistake once.” But this is a book of mistakes and loss and dying, of joy and healing and coming together. It is a book that again makes all things holy, from sex to forgiveness to activism. And it is a hopeful book—not naively or desperately, but because it has to be. What other choice do we have in this lifetime? “i’m thankful for this life,” the speaker tells us in “Watching Philando Castile Die on Facebook Live,” “it’s my last one // i don’t ever want / to come back here again.”
Communion was published by Shabda Press in May 2018. To find out more the title visit their website here.