Gold Line Press, 2022
85 pages, $10.00
Review by Irene Cooper
The rich imagery, deep music, and bracing intimacy of Boyer Rickel’s nonfiction chapbook, Morgan (A Lyric) suggests nothing of the chaos and crowds of the casino—and yet. The primary setting of this elegy and its fragmentary nature blur time in the way that hospitals do, like cheerless casinos of fluorescence and beep, full of inscrutable systems, dependent, to some desperate degree, on luck.
Winner of the 2020 Gold Line Press nonfiction chapbook competition, Morgan (A Lyric) admits the reader to the last stages of illness in the life of the poet Morgan Lucas Schuldt, accompanied by the speaker, who loves and cares for Morgan unto death. It unfolds in four movements. Though nonfiction, the music and rhythm of Morgan invite the reader to experience the narrative as an extended prose poem, or incantation, intoned through repeated phrases that jolt the reader’s reset button and compel them to reconsider the tableau:
“Anger, he said, had motivated him his entire life”;
“(They were not wrong who sensed there might be many Morgans.)”;
“Why did you let yourself get caught?”; and, from Morgan,
“Why do you do this?…Why do you take care of me?”
Italicized passages from Book 16 of The Iliad, the graphic “Patroclus Fights and Dies,” thread the lyric—“dragged out both/ the man’s life breath and the weapon’s point together”—as well as paraphrased philosophies from a spectrum of writers and thinkers. They form a sort of chorus, an accompaniment to the decimation of the body and the undulations of the spirit, and are never distracting, but fluid—the associations of a well-read and curious brain, of a writer and teacher, of a poet in love with another poet.
That said, Morgan is as earthy as it is erudite. Sex is not an abstract, but a pearly bead, even as it glistens in memory. The body is what is at stake here. When the “great-chested” Arnold Schwarzenegger ripples across the hospital TV in Terminator II, the speaker says he’s never seen it. “No, too busy rereading The Iliad” Morgan chides. Their dialogue, even in distress, is flirtatious and sexually charged. While the sick man wields control in this arena, the caretaker retains his own strength, protecting his vulnerable lover’s feelings in “metered” breaths through a new smell—“piercing, wrong”—and by leaning in for a kiss.
In Morgan, the narrative of the older/younger romance upends with the idea that, to the dying, aging itself may be aphrodisiac. In the hospital, the bed is the setting for, if not sex, then a uniquely raw intimacy as the speaker administers the pounding therapy that loosens the phlegm that would make concrete of Morgan’s lungs. Fragments and surprising syntax lay a melody over, under, and through the percussive insistence of thumping therapies and monitors, a lyric that reverberates through the body of the reader long after the last “blood draw, the port check,” and well beyond the tender rituals of beating time, of holding on, of letting go.
Irene Cooper’s books include Found, domestic noir set in Colorado, Committal, poet-friendly spy-fy about family (V.A. Press) & the poetry collection, spare change (FLP), a finalist for the Stafford/Hall Award. Writings appear in Denver Quarterly, The Feminist Wire, phoebe, The Rumpus, streetcake, Witness, & elsewhere. Irene teaches in community and supports AIC-directed writing opportunities at a regional prison. She lives with her people and Maggie in Oregon.