Saint Friend by Carl Adamshick

Carl Adamshick
Saint Friend
August 2014
San Francisco, CA
McSweeney's
65 pages
$20.00
ISBN -13: 9781940450032
Buy here

Without a wasted syllable, the poems in Carl Adamshick’s sophomore effort Saint Friend address death, life, and the meaning of both with a lean, angular prose. This collection is many things: heartbreaking, funny, strange, heavy. It is a collection reflective of the varied nature of our own existence, a lifetime of minor tragedies, quiet triumphs, and the biting fear of irrelevance.

Carl Adamshick’s sophomore effort Saint Friend ... is a collection reflective of the varied nature of our own existence, a lifetime of minor tragedies, quiet triumphs, and the biting fear of irrelevance.

Mortality is the driving force behind Saint Friend: It is mortality whose breath fogs the window of even the rare sunny passage. Mortality is a passenger who longs to have his name called daily over an airport intercom after his death, "so people will think I am just running late or lost." It’s a desperately romantic description of one man’s expectation of death, a long-winding drive into the desert horizon ("… quiet in the car, moving through the night, forever, with the beautiful thought of home"). It’s a pilot, famous in tragedy, musing of both her birth and impending death as she starts her final descent toward the ocean ("And it seemed you could live once or you could die a thousand times a second").

In his depictions of mortality, Adamshick presents varying slices of humanity with the first-person honesty reserved for dim lights and closed doors. At times, his poems are difficult to read, because they are constructed by thoughts and actions that are difficult for the reader to admit. Each poem is a microcosm of the world we live in where each moment of joy exists only because a corresponding moment of sadness awaits:

"The sky can rise
until it breaks into space
but you will never know life
without death."

And in this contrast lies Saint Friend’s staying power. Time and again, Adamshick lulls the reader into a false sense of literality and then slams a door in their face with one of his many jarring asides ("Two clerks are talking. From here it looks as though they are friends. When I was dead I couldn’t love you"). Sitting in the passenger seat, these hairpin turns draw the reader into a heightened sense of awareness where she’s forced to treat each line with the wariness of a child winding a jack-in-the-box for the second time.

In his depictions of mortality, Adamshick presents varying slices of humanity with the first-person honesty reserved for dim lights and closed doors.

The passages range from the approachable "All That Happens Can Be Called Aging," an honest and relatable piece about a grandfather’s attempt to slow the sand in the hourglass by clinging to the chaos of family, to the jolting narrative of "Near Real-Time" where no assumption of the poem’s direction is safe:

"Think of an ocean
ending       only to recede
into its restless body.

Think of what you want.
Think of a ditch of dead bodies covered with lime. Then come to me
and whisper if you can."

In "All That Happens …" Adamshick paints the urgency of a grandparent’s love and his dependence on the chaos of the mundane to keep life within his grasp. It’s not only the small things or the good things that keep the days turning—it’s everything:

"I need mornings to ask for favors and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living."

And while Adamshick’s poetry is lean and at times barren, there is a simple eloquence to be had in his writing—an austere beauty in which every word plays a meaningful role. In "A Map to Now," the author’s depiction of a New Year’s celebration elevates the commonplace to the sublime:

"The year had slipped out
of its clothes, and midnight
arrived in formal attire,

everyone swayed, held in the music,
sure the turning
of the year

was an entrance into an afterlife
of unlimited sunshine.
We lived."

And in this passage, Adamshick’s Saint Friend is distilled: the interwoven nature of life and death, of beauty and the unyielding passing of time. All without a wasted syllable.

Peter Horn
Nomadic Press
Horn is a native Charlottean who currently resides in San Francisco with his fiancé, Laurie. He is a part-time freelance writer and graduate from the University of Georgia.