(Tollesun, AZ: Tolsun Books, 2018)
Sometimes I think about past versions of myself — the rebellious teenager, the closeted college student, the child — and wonder if I have changed at all. In spite of the daily dramas, do my insecurities and personality remain unchanged? And more, how do the people I’ve known or events that I’ve experienced affect my present makeup? Is the impact obvious? Or is it more subtle, the way the space between people grows over the years? Are these iterations of myself and the experiential obsolete artifacts in my subconscious? Cody Wilson’s collection, Nobody Is Ever Missing seems to argue that all the pieces of our past are with us always, either as harmless memories or baggage. This can be difficult to navigate as subjective perspectives often interfere with the direct and obvious effects of one’s past. In these poems, though, the speaker recalls and ruminates on his experiences and relationships with an objective voice, deeply personal metaphors, and a longing for emotions that never really left.
The poems in Wilson’s collection span concrete memories or people, so clear that I was often left with the feeling that I had seen a ghost or received a call from my first love. From widely recognized childhood experiences to these deeply personal moments, the collection follows the speaker on his journey from an innocent youth to an adult navigating new relationships. The voice is retrospective with an acute awareness that isn’t only effective in creating clear images, but the objectivity is a defining characteristic for the speaker. Over the course of the poems, it becomes likely this trait is a symptom of anxieties or at the very least a symptom of experience guiding his perspective. Through this lens, the speaker explores the connectedness of all things and creates a world where no matter how unique the memory, anyone can share the emotion.
In “Brother on the Lake” the speaker describes his brother’s upper body cast after an incident that left his vertebrae damaged:
An old crab walks out of its skin
only to be shucked from the water
by a boy. These next eight weeks,
my brother will lose weight as his muscles slough,
trying themselves to bone.
When he takes it off, he will keep it
as a trophy for getting stronger.
This is one of the images in this collection I cannot shake and a metaphor that should not be forgotten. The image of the crab molting as mere survival followed immediately by a death beyond its control rouses uncertainty that the speaker’s brother will live in the lines that follow. What comes next raises the emotional stakes, building on the metaphor with descriptions of the physical deterioration of the brother’s muscles. This is an incredibly specific detail for a child to know and later for one to recall, insinuating the speaker has been affected by this experience and can recall it, right between more casual memories of crabs and trophies. Without enduring a physical injury such as this, most people can still relate to the metaphor of ‘shedding one’s skin’: a move to college, a deep love, coming out of the closet. This is the elusive space that the speaker attempts to capture despite his inevitable subjectivity.
The brother does heal, as we read, and keeps his cast as a trophy. This is common among children, but it’s not an arm cast or a leg cast — it’s a full upper body cast. This, with the established metaphor of a cast, is an image where the reader can either relate experientially or emotionally. Later in the poem, the speaker and curious younger brother tries the cast on:
Twisting in, I’ll shoulder his sternum,
slip my elbows against ribs.
My hands will swim the impression,
The sea-cave of his spine.
And I’ll be closer to him
in the negative space
that held him.
Incredible. Ever present are mentions of water so the images of the spine as a sea-cave is not just appropriate but highly effective. The language is surreal but the image itself is definitive and again reflective of the metaphor throughout. This final stanza becomes the center layer of everything the piece has built upon. The cast isn’t just a piece of this character that isn’t serving him anymore or a tool for healing, but now also a place where one closest to him can go beyond empathy and seek intimacy.
It seems the speaker in almost all of the poems in this collection recalls similar images as the common thread. These aren’t casts, but shadows, imprints — indications that someone who was once present is no longer there: a person’s shape in a memory foam mattress, a pillow under covers, the former implying a leaving, the latter a deliberate deception of someone who has left.
What makes the collection exciting is sometimes the speaker is the one leaving, other times it’s a family member or a lover, and sometimes physical bodies are exchanged for something entirely different. In “The Dust of Us” the speaker is embodied as, just that: dust. He says, “You watch me float / through the narrow fingers / of light knuckled by each blind, / then exhale, and I slope / over your breath.” I love the intimacy in this image, despite the implication that the speaker has left. The two interact in a way that is intentional but also unavoidable. The image of dust also implies the unkempt environment, the need for the addressee to rid their space of the speaker. When thinking of a past relationship or friendship, this image accurately describes the thoughts and emotions one can feel in the quiet moments of life.
All of Wilson’s poems argue that no memory or experience is too small to light a fuse in the subconscious mind. There’s no telling when one will surface and explode. To me, that’s the real core of this collection; how one thing becomes another, how our shadows have lives of their own and that we are everything and everyone that we leave behind. The collection starts with a child pranking his mother with the pillows under his covers and throughout navigates with the curiosity of this same child, but the type of curiosity that gets the child bruised, lost, and ultimately found and forever changed. Wilson’s poems don’t answer my questions about our past selves, but they do make it clear that at once we are the memory, the one remembering, and the imprint.
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Timothy Lindner is an MFA graduate from Fairleigh Dickinson University who currently works as a Senior Content Operations Manager for Wiley with poems published in The Citron Review and several anthologies.
You can purchase Nobody Is Ever Missing here.