Book Review

Fault Lines by Tim Hunt, The Backwaters Press, 2009. $16

Reviewed by Elmae Passineau

It was the title of the book, Fault Lines, that first intrigued me, and so I began with Tim Hunt’s poem, “Fault Lines.”  The movements of the earth, “sometimes a small shrug-- / like someone saying, ‘eh?’,” sometimes a twitch or a tug, remind the reader to be glad that she is standing on ground that does not shift beneath her, recognizing, as Hunt does, our yearning for stability and immutability and belonging.  He concludes with “Each time we see that wholeness / is a history of dislocation / and want again a place to stand / as if we have stood there always.”

A winter’s drive almost anywhere reminds the reader of Hunt’s tender personification of trees which “have listened to the corn whispering” all summer in “Corn Field with Trees (Central Illinois),” but now “the bared branches interweave / against the light—like hands talking. / It is the sky’s turn to listen.”

As Hunt’s free verse narrative poems lead us through the West, it is both the beauty of the landscape and the insights into the human condition that draw the reader in.  Describing  night in “California Foothills,” Hunt says, “It is not the dark we fear / but the distance it reveals,” and that distance can easily be sensed between people “in the absence of the day’s / clutter, the busy strands / that weave us into the moment.”

In “Masks (Berkeley, California),” Hunt speaks of “aging children” who sit passively with extended begging hands, and he captures their eyes in metaphor:  “the eyes / are the smoked glass of a burnt fuse”; they are “emptiness behind the smear of ash.”  It is these eyes, he says, that make us turn and walk away.  He concludes with a provocative couplet, “There are reasons to hurry, reasons / to believe it matters where we are going.”

The West and the poverty and the dying are constant images in Hunt’s 57 poems.  In “Lake County Elegy,” waiting on a dying indoors, Hunt is outdoors admiring his cousin’s “blocked-up and faded Model A, / loving it to a shine.” And he is remembering, “when we dance it is beer and neon, the slow / blossoming of rust on chipped chrome. / Soon the mottled skin will pock so thin / the wind will blow through.”  Both the automobile and the dying  woman, like all of us, will soon be dust obliterated by the relentless pace of time.

Another poem that deals with a dying old woman and the stories she told begins with “As the cancerous thing grew in her mind / it took away the words / until she lived in her eyes.”  In “Stories,” Hunt tells the woman’s tales, “partly lies and mine now guesses,” and ends with a haunting query, how “do we face the ache of so much space / to fill with the human.”

Each of us has a parent or grandparent whose youthful dreams we never knew and would be amazed at.  In “Victrola,” Hunt describes his father as a boy standing in the parlor resting “his hand on the oak’s / darkened curve as if it were a grand piano / …Singing and singing to learn the notes, / he sang arias to his dreams of being a voice / for all those who left him without the training…”  A beautiful 1930’s black and white photograph of my father holding a guitar along with three fellow band members hangs on my sunroom wall.  This, too, is an unknown father; I never heard him play.

A combination of pretending, imagining, and remembering comes together in “Peet’s,” where Hunt is drinking tea early in the day “as the blue / squeezes down against the fog, and the trees / come out across the estuary.”  And perhaps it doesn’t matter, really, whether our past is memory or imagination, because “we could put on the world we’ve woven / and stare off through that window at what might pass by.”

The poignant lines, familiar in some way to the reader’s own memory, entice one back again and again to Hunt’s poems.  Every reader has experienced or heard about “the clothes (that) came down / brother to sister to brother and each year / a pair of catalog shoes that sometimes fit.” In “Canned Tuna,” Hunt tells of the cheap canned salmon, tuna, beans, and “whatever was left from the summer canning” that were the mainstays of the family’s diet.  With realistic acceptance and no self-pity, he says this was then “as much the ordinary as the canned tuna on toast / the end of the month when I was a boy—not signs / of making do.  What was.”  Fault lines, wrinkles, cracks, and all.  This is what was.

Imagery that dazzles with light and meaning, clear and descriptive syntax, thought-provoking themes, and memorable metaphor all contribute to Tim Hunt’s travels and memories in Fault Lines, and to the reader’s journey to her own yesterdays.

Elmae Passineau is a former English teacher, principal, and private pilot. Currently, she is a thinker, reader, friend, helper, feminist, and writer.