The Language of the Heart

Article excerpt

The Language of the Heart. By David Middleton. Hammond, La.: The Louisiana Literature Press, 2003. 36 pp. $10.00 (paper).

Looking across the pews on that first day

He thinks of sending out his resume.

But no. He's tired of moving. And, in time,

Each face will make a sermon or a rhyme.

Each face will make a sermon or a rhyme. That statement might be considered the guiding principle behind this slender chapbook of deeply incarnational verse. This is poetry rooted in the particular-rooted geographically in the poet's home ground of Louisiana, rooted temporally in the poet's own lifetime and marked by his reckonings with his own middle age, rooted spiritually in his understated but solid orthodoxy-while nonetheless quietly encompassing universal themes.

The tone ranges from the sly humor of "Parishioners" (from which the excerpt above is taken) and the rueful humor of "Cholesterol" (cleverly modeled on Herrick's "His Fare-Well to Sack") to the restrained grief of "If I Should Die Before I Wake" (occasioned by a child's death) and the pure meditation of "Advent in November." Middleton is keenly attentive to the turning seasons, both natural and liturgical, and we move with him through "Summer Ending" and "In the Bleak Midwinter"; and above all we journey with him through the vale of ordinary time, where we make meaning of our apparently ordinary lives.

This paradoxical ordinariness is reflected in the many poems written in blank verse, a form flexible enough to capture the cadence and unexpected beauty of daily speech. These longer, more narrative poems, filled with such homely details, positive and negative, as "sweet brownies, milk, questions about their day / And supper cooking slowly on the stove" in contrast with "the processed chicken shaped like chicken legs / Thin instant mashed potatoes, greasy peas" (from "The Latch-Key Child") are interspersed with small gems of tightly constructed verse. …