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Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (Paraclete Poetry)
Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (Paraclete Poetry)
Scott Cairns
Paraclete Press, 2015
320 pp., $39.00

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Micah Mattix


A Promise of a Future Fullness

Scott Cairns' collected poems.

Some poets are preoccupied with a single question, and Scott Cairns is one of them. Despite the breadth of his Collected Poems, a big volume that includes a selection of juvenilia and previously uncollected poems along with everything from his books to date, Cairns regularly turns to the question of faithful language. How can we speak truthfully about ourselves and the world, and how can we speak truthfully about God?

For Cairns, one answer—among others—is to be a little sexy. Surprised? Welcome to Scott Cairns' world.

The first poem of the volume (after an address to the reader) is "Taking Off Our Clothes." "Let's pretend," Cairns writes, "for now there is no such thing / as metaphor; you know, waking up will just / be waking up, darkness will no longer have to be / anything but dark; this could all be happening / in Kansas." And "taking off our clothes" would also be just that:

We'd have nice blue sheets and a wool blanket
for later. I could be the man and you could be
the woman. We'd talk about real things, casually
and easily taking off our clothes. We would be
naked and would hold onto each other a long time,
talking, saying things that would make us
grin. We'd laugh off and on, all the time
unconcerned with things like breath, or salty
skin, or the way our gums show when we really
smile big. After a little while, I'd get you a glass of water.

It may sound odd for a poet to wish—if only momentarily—that there's "no such thing / as metaphor," but metaphors can be troublesome things. They simultaneously contain more meaning than we need and narrow it. When we use words like "morning" and "wake," Cairns writes in "Waking in the Borrowed House," "we fool ourselves / by thinking we've imagined all / we say," or we imagine that by naming "the sun lifting past the ridge" we have "given ...

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