In his compelling new collection, David Huddle writes, “We think / we stand in the vivid color of here and now / and view the past as drab black and white, / whereas the truth is — it’s our future / that’s the off-center, badly focused grayscale.” Spiraling between the tenses of time, David Huddle creates in these vibrant poems a defense against the encroachment of age through the resources of language and memory, imagination and art. Moments recollected—and admittedly embellished—from his own life and family seem appealingly familiar: a teenage dance, Grandmama’s morning coffee, young daughters playing dolls. With age, wonder has become understanding, and so when intimations of his death arise in the midst of sharing a joke with his children, the poet shows us the comfort and peace that murky prospect may hold. Playful and fantastic narratives about penguin clans, Jane Goodall and the chimps, and what to do when it snaows offer wit and craft as further barriers against pain and despair. “In my family we were /all good at dreaming,” Huddle's closing poem notes. Undaunted, Huddle gives us in Grayscale not false hopes about our lives but a range of ways to transcend their limits.
On single staved sheets, each part
in a different colored ink, my father
had copied out arrangements of songs
like The Little Brown Church in the Dale,
Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, and I Want
a Girl Just Like the Girl. That summer,
when the two of us sat side by side,
my sax and his trumpet sounded half decent.
Thirteen, just learning how to play, I had my pants pegged,
my hair slicked back,
a pack of cigarettes hidden in the garage,
and a girl whose phone number I’d memorized, but
after supper, for a few weeks, my father had me
sit down with him and make old-time harmony.
“1955” published in Grayscale: Poems by David Huddle. Copyright © 2004 by David Huddle. All rights reserved.
A native of Ivanhoe, Virginia, David Huddle has lived in Vermont for over four decades. He is the author of nineteen novels, short story collections, essays, and volumes of poetry, including Glory River and Blacksnake at the Family Reunion. He teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English and the Rainier Writing Workshop.