Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Mordant Verse

By Ben Winters

JULY 10, 2000: 

Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality by Thomas Lynch (Norton), $23.95, 275 pages

A living embodiment of Montaigne's dictum that every man should live within sight of a graveyard, the poet and essayist Thomas Lynch is not just a man of words; he's also the funeral director in the small town of Milford, Michigan, a family trade he's been plying for some thirty years. Lynch's writing is about everything--sexuality, divorce, popular culture, computers--but all infused with the worldly wisdom of the man who knows all too well where we're all heading: underground.

In this collection, as in his breakthrough first book, "The Undertaking," the big sleep is Lynch's touchstone, his favorite metaphor. Here he is on sex, from an essay called "Bible Studies":

"... sex and death are difficult twins. They nearly rhyme. Both leave you wide-eyed, blinking back your disbelief, out of breath, fumbling for a cigarette and something to say. Both bring you face-to-face with your maker. Both are horizontal mysteries. Both make you wish you'd spent more time on your knees."

Clearly Lynch is no mordant contemplative; his is a sly humanist platform, exhorting us to think clearly and live vibrantly, because there's only so much time to do either. He writes frankly about his own life, his marriage and divorce, his alcoholism, his struggle with a wayward son, his current romance. He writes also about societal questions, both those specific to his milieu--the encroachment of big business funeral parlor chains on his traditionally family-operated profession--and more universal, as in "Wombs," a piece that progresses from shy recollections of his initiation in the mysteries of women's bodies to a consideration of choice vs. life.

There is a quietly self-obsessed quality to "Bodies in Motion," as Lynch digs up (ahem) various aspects of his life and mulls over what they've meant to him. Absent, however, is the vapidity or narcissism evident in some writers unable or unwilling to take their self-dissections and apply some conclusions to the world around them. A nostalgic essay about fishing with his son casually transforms into a profound reflection on age and time's march: "Dream and vision, memory and reflection-each is an effort to hold life still, like paintings of fruit and flowers on a table. There is no still life."

When he is at his best, Lynch's writing is like his preferred subject: It takes your breath away.

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