In this debut collection of poems, Forever & a Day, the poet wishes for time to slip away through an open window. It happens for him. Although they are set to the engrained pacing of the calendar, the poems move forward at a standstill, so tight is the poet's vision and lyrical focus: an ex-girlfriend's pregnant younger sister. If it sounds taboo enough for rock 'n' roll, it is. But the confessional pleas are made with equivocation, awkward charm, and judgment tempered by heartfelt compassion. Reading Matt St. Amand's first collection of poetry is like cataloguing the music he grew up listening to on Detroit radio stations. You can hear the warm analog of crackling vinyl. It's punctuated with the brutal brief lash of "Pang"; tight and confined refrains that hit like a well-timed drum fill or the atmospheric squawk of strings during a chord change (see "Poem for the Girl I don't have the guts to talk to"); visceral evocations of places and their people: "The villagers are restless, like agitated mice./Painting their doorways with blood." The setting is largely nocturnal, at once dream-like and hyperreal. A neighborhood with gambling clowns, propless magicians, politicians and their daredevil drinking companions; where strongmen and wordsmiths play chess, and pipers and illuminati feed the birds…. And the poet whispers verses through timeless midnight windows accessible only by high tree branches. Forever & a Day is a concept album that actually works because it was never recorded. —Bob Stewart, author of Set and Setting
In the spring of 1995, I learned the younger sister of an ex-girlfriend became pregnant at the age of seventeen. For the next nine years I wrote Forever & a Day, a volume of poetry more inspired by Lou Reed, Bono, and Pete Townsend than Shakespeare or Shelley.
Have you ever heard the classic recording of Sam Cooke live at the Harlem Club in Miami in 1963? Side Two begins with the music of the previous song still rolling along ("Somebody Have Mercy"), and Sam Cooke says, "I think it's time I told you about my baby..." And he takes the audience through five minutes of spontaneous combustion, talking about how he and his baby "fuss and fight, and sometimes my baby leaves home 'cause things ain't right..." culminating in an incendiary rendition of "You Send Me." The audience responds, applauding, crying out, and when the moment has reached its emotional apex, Sam Cooke explodes into a heart-shattering version of "Bring It On Home To Me." That's Forever & a Day.
A chance meeting at a café one afternoon, I ran into an old girlfriend a few months after our years-long relationship ended. There was awkward talk of new jobs, new friends. As I moved to say goodbye, there was one more piece of news:
"I'm going to be an aunt," she said.
I looked at her.
She shrugged, smiled sadly. "Deirdre's pregnant. Two months, now."
The news echoed in my ears, quivered through my bones. I mouthed the words, Deirdre's pregnant. Deirdre was seventeen years old.
There seemed nothing more to say except goodbye and good luck.
As I stepped into the sunlight, stunned and blinking, a murmur of longing and regret whispered through me. It continued unabated as I walked toward home, past my street, to the waterfront. All the while that voice welled until it surged through me like a cry…
I cannot let this passing of affection happen without a word.
My thoughts on you have lain like a buried, burning river, and must now flow into the light—yet away from you, where you might never know. These words move through me as the needle of Nature wends through you, forming torso and head, arms and legs. What could I say to you, anyhow? My words can weave no hedge of protection or gather back any of that unfurling within you. Words are air, and my helplessness prickles against my conscience when I consider how much of a mystery you are to me even after these six years.
And what of you? Timid and alone, letting not a familiar face pass without your eyes growing wide with nervous wonder, Do they know?
There may be shame where there should be none, carrying your child like a naked secret, a window on the heart opening wider and wider until finally the day will come when that secret writhes in your arms, shaking its tiny fists, screaming with its pinched, purple face.
Your news has come like a knifethrust. What should be a glad occasion was met with my mind's mournful muttering, Ah, shit. I ought to be happy for you, full of congratulations, yet I'm not. And I turn to these words that have lain buried for six years, words that wend through me, and from their chaos your eyes appear, your candleflame hair, and your smile that is sweet and seldom as the harvest moon.
You are an enigma, mirror image of the girl I once loved. I care for you in ways that are strange and haunting to me; manic and passive and constant. Vacanteyed and luscious, you are a worry and a wonder through the steely moments of the day, softwinged visitor in through the bargebellowing night. But when it comes down to the heart of your situation I feel frustrated knowing how far short of any real goals you have fallen.
So, now you are with child and something in me is wrenched out of place; my feelings are battered under the avalanche of your news. I ask myself, Why? What I think and feel matters nothing to your situation. Would you even pause to chat with me on the sidewalk if we met?
I cannot let this passing of affection happen quietly.
We have never kissed, never held each other, never slept together. I have been neither brother, lover, father, friend or confidante to you. We have spoken, shared awkward smiles, even ridden alone in my car that once, and all has served to deepen the mystery of you. And as I watch this day fade into evening, I shake my head and know one thing for certain: The mark of your moonsweet beauty and your quiet staring watchfulness will be upon me forever, little sister, and I will tend your memory with love.