on Declaration for your Bones by Duane Esposito
When I find myself going back to a poem many times because it haunts me, I know this poem matters to me. And it perhaps matters to many. Duane Esposito’s elegant collection of poems ‘Declaration for your Bones ((Yuganta Press, 2012), haunts me and I keep going back to it repeatedly only to discover new things in it with every fresh reading.
Every line in this volume has heft and has been examined before being placed on the palette for our aesthetic delight. Thus, all 25 poems take us into the heart of painful experiences and expose us to momentary transcendences; Esposito draws us to them by his aphoristic brevity and brilliance. Ralph Nazareth’s deeply engaging introduction that underscores his editorial function as midwife to the birth of this book complements Esposito’s insistent theme of love.
Esposito ponders the meaning of love, what it can endure, what makes it crumble, what makes it constant. Love’s grand test is when we are engaged 24/7 with the other—a lover, a friend, a parent. In inquiring about the quality of love and its survival, Esposito goes way beyond the “confessional” poet and presents us with the bones of human love and loss, their wounds and iridescence, our failures and our faltering steps toward knowing. Such honesty and courage to look at things as they are is rare in contemporary American poetry. Esposito bridges philosophical questioning, emotional intensity and artistic attention to detail. The result is a stunning and spare work that cannot be ignored.
Is marriage just “two thin / ribbed chests pressed against each other” or is it possible to be like “the sunrise”—“distance without confusion?” When we suffer from an illness, why do we isolate ourselves and stop loving our partner? How do we reach beyond our illness and reach across to kiss the one we love? The winter months are endured with an argument not to let the bones lie “paling in the slant, spring sunlight / beside an empty garden.”
For Esposito, the dislocation of the outer world is not separate from our private darkness. The carnage outside is seamless with the carnage within; the winter that the loons fly to also steals into a marriage; the obscenity of pornography is no different from anorexia; bin Laden’s murder is simultaneous with the end of love. The poems relentlessly search for God, “miniscule” or “unnoticed”. Tested again and again through multiple deaths and rebirths within a life that is drawing closer and closer to death, the poet despairingly asks, “Where the hell is spring?”
A poem of affirmation, “Bones” is at the heart of the book: “The homunculus listens” and hears that there is “no perfection more perfect than a malformed body,” and that love is “a knotted, purple, nameless, strange affliction.” If love is a disease that we live with, then our faith too is an affliction. Declaration is a voice of longing at the border of exile and belonging, between existentialist despair and finding a home reconciling oneself to love within the pain and our devastating shortcomings.