A Short Review: Bruce Weigl’s What Saves Us By Kurt Z. Geisler

Posted: October 27, 2010 by fsucenterforcreativewriting in Poetry, Review

What I like most about Bruce Weigl’s book, What Saves Us, is the narrative voice throughout most of his poems. As readers follow Weigl’s speaker from a cafe’ in barrio Las Americas to a deer bed made under an apple tree, they discover that these jumps from place to place progress the same way as jumps from memory to memory.

Weigl creates a persona within the book that is looking for forgiveness. We sense this at the very start, in the poem “Her Life Runs Like a Silk Flag”, where the speaker visits a Vietnamese woman in Hanoi. Although very descriptive, with images of him holding her “shy unmoving fingers” as she tells him how the fear of being bombed “dug inside her like a worm and lives/ inside her still, wont die or go away”, the poem raises the question why is he there? until she tells him he is not to blame. From there, the poem goes from being about the woman to being about the speaker in his search for forgiveness for the violence committed during the Vietnam War.

We see this need for forgiveness reoccur also in the poem “Blues in the Afterworld”, when the speaker reflects upon touching himself out in the field during war. At the start of the poem, readers are greeted with a scene that describes so much in such a small space:

“I remember a wild apple tree
alone in a field where deer had lain
and made a bed in the long leaves of grass
where I slept with a gun
in my hands
and woke in rain
misting on the leaves
and on the hard apple’s redness
abandoned to the rattling branches.”

What follows is a confession by the speaker telling us “I have to say/ I put my gun down/ and opened my pants/ and touched myself.” The poem seeks to justify this action and does so, but by the end, the same feeling of the speaker seeking forgiveness hangs in the air with the question “why seek it from me?”

For me, the answer to this question comes from the ending of another poem, “The Offices of Loss.” Our speaker saves a boy from dying of a seizure and again, the reader is given a scene we’re not sure what to do with despite its beauty until we reach the last few lines:

“I’m always trapped between
things like that day
is why I have to tell this,
always of two minds,
singing the few songs
I know over and over,
their notes a gathering black
in the sky. An emptiness
does not abide in me.
An emptiness surrounds me.”

It is making sense of the emptiness around him that Weigl’s persona explores within What Saves Us. For me (and this may be a stretch), the speaker has already forgiven himself for his actions, thus releasing the emptiness which isn’t tolerated within himself and putting it in the open for readers to sift through in order to make their own judgment about forgiveness.

Kurt Z. Geisler

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