The opening poem in Cody Wilson’s debut chapbook, Nobody is Ever Missing, released by Tolsun Books in 2018, is called “Count Breaths to Calm,” and it explores the unknown as well as the anxiety surrounding loss itself. In the four-part sequence poem, each number signifies one breath. Wilson writes: “Everywhere I’m expecting rapture—/ the one where you disappear. If I call/and you don’t answer, rapture. When/ the door is open and all/ I see is yard, rapture.” He uses religious imagery, one of arbitrary separation between heaven and Earth, to share ordinary feelings of insecurity, the paranoia that occurs “when I can’t see/ you over an aisle of clothes.” In channeling the fear of abandonment, which persists in adulthood but begins earlier, the final stanza uses “folded pillows” and “rolled sheets” in order to communicate the “childish thrill” of observing someone as they “think you’re there/when you’re really somewhere else.” This piece, originally published by Juked, leaves the reader breathless. The entire book is like that: heavy despite its thinness, solid despite its vulnerable, cream-colored sheets of paper. In 22 poems and 30 pages, Wilson leaves readers grasping for the fruit of stability in a windy world of beginnings and endings. He shares familial struggles and relationship conflicts that reside somewhere in the middle of his story and does so earnestly and as quickly as the space between breaths.
“Brother on the Lake” surveys the loss of one’s body, one’s former self. Using crabs and their shells as a metaphor for a body cast, Wilson observes: “When his lower vertebrae chipped,/ his disks compressed, and my brother waded through his nervous system in search of feeling…An old crab walks out of its skin,/ only to be shucked from the water/ by a boy.” The fragility of the self, especially the male body, is clear in these lines as is the function of chance. The world is cruel, and Wilson’s speaker grapples with bearing witness to this: “Some crabs eat their old skin/ for nutrients. When I visit,/ I will try on his body, oversized, vacant…And I’ll be closer to him/ in the negative space/ that held him.” The image of the shell as protection takes on new meaning here, keeping the poem’s themes unique instead of cliched.
With the same freshness, Wilson grieves for the end of the weekend in “It Isn’t A Mourning Dove Until I Listen to Videos of Birds on YouTube.” As he describes the sounds of the white-winged doves that roost “along the fence like notes on a bass clef/ of this evening’s melody,” he remarks that “with every measure it’s closer to night, where all the notes are rests.” Despite creating a tranquil scene, Wilson’s speaker is restless: “I am hammock-still/ and wish the weekend didn’t have to push its way/ to the front of the line, because I wouldn’t mind waiting/ with it a little longer. Tomorrow is already putting on/ its suit and tie.” The aggression of tomorrow’s arrival eclipses the ache for a continuous today. Wilson’s quietly humorous and highly relatable poem reimagines “Manic Monday” for all who wish Sunday had 25 hours.
However, the most resonant poems are those that dissect romantic relationships, separating the Big End from the small endings that occurred in the middle. Prose poem “Late Night Talk” provides a snapshot of what occurs after a lover’s quarrel: “I kneel at your side/ of the bed…to explain that our love is a language/ that does not roll/ off the tongue but one/ that can leave/ the roof of a mouth raw/ but you are too hungry for patience and right now I know/ I’ve burned away any hope of taste…” The sensory details both ground readers in setting and create the impression of a singed mouth after an argument—with the last words being “I am sorry” in French. Meanwhile, “Dust of Us” communicates what remains after the end of a partnership: “My body glides across/ shelves, collects the cut up/ shirts you used to clean.” Wilson’s use of enjambment after the words “cut up” cement the fragmentation. But the speaker is not the only one fighting against memories, for just as the person he is addressing can “print your finger/ in me, drag me across the table,” the speaker states, “I’m under your nails.” In centering on dust, an ordinary pest we can never seem to remove, Wilson discusses the symbiotic relationship between lovers, even when they are no longer together.
Finally, “Redding to Phoenix,” the last poem in the chapbook, is fitting. As the speaker travels from California to Arizona for a new beginning, he remembers his former lover who “sits shotgun in my mind.” As he rolls the windows down, he “catch[es] a fast food napkin” to wipe his face. Before letting it fly away with the wind, it is “fluttering furious below/ my thumb.” Though the metaphor is simple, it holds power. Letting go is always the most challenging part as humankind seeks light in darkness, permanence in a mutable world. After all, Wilson keenly observes that we are all “made of the stuff/ from which shadows are cast.”