The father's map is also the son's

Monday Book Reviews

November 09, 1992|By D. R. Fair

MY FATHER'S GEOGRAPHY. By Michael S. Weaver University of Pittsburgh Press. 76 pages. $17.95 cloth. $9.95 paper.

WHEN the editor called to ask if I would do a review of a soon-to-be-published collection of poems, I thought, "Great! A chance to make some much-needed money." (My finances as a graduate student have been dismal.)

When the editor said the poet was a fellow Baltimorean, my heart experienced a slight tremor. During my stay in Pittsburgh, I've been starved for anything Baltimore: the Orioles, the City Fair, the smell of steamed crabs, a walk down Howard Street, the lighted "M" and "N" atop the Maryland National Bank Building at night.

Reading the title, "My Father's Geography," I was a bit worried. Maybe, I thought, a man would be a better reviewer of this collection, or at least someone who had a father around as a

youth. There might, I thought, be ground covered here with which I am not familiar. Could the coincidences that Mr. Weaver and I are both black and both born and raised in the same city be enough justification for my saying anything about his work? The poet allows me to answer with an assured "Yes."

Mr. Weaver's poems do not confine me to memories of his father. Nor am I limited to images of Baltimore. (Washington, Atlantic City and the cote d'Azur are also in Mr. Weaver's father's geography.) There are memories of disappointment, frustration, satisfaction, anger, hurt, admiration, love, need and loss. None of these emotions are the exclusive terrain of the male psyche, or of those who grew up with fathers at home.

The images are there, which only added to my pleasure: Druid Hill Park and the zoo, Bentalou Street, Turner's Station, Sparrows Point, the Orioles. ("After the 9th, you fought the crowd,/ fingering the ticket stubs in your shirt,/ as we floated out into the night/ with the deep river of white faces".) But these locations are intertwined with remembrances of childhood -- both happy and not so happy.

Sometimes they seem to be used to give added validity to a family history of which Mr. Weaver has assumed the role of guardian. And the voice of the guardian -- in this case the male voice -- is very strong but not egocentric, as Mr. Weaver draws a map that explores the possible origins of family violence and dysfunction while simultaneously contemplating family unity and strength.

Unfortunately, for all of the many moments in which Mr. Weaver performs sheer magic with the mingling of place, time and memory, there are places where I am simply confused. There are poems in which I'm sure work is being done with a memory, but I can't figure out what that work is -- or, for that matter, what the memory is.

I feel confident enough to say that I see Mr. Weaver's ultimate project to be an attempt to map out his memory and history, which are individual and at the same time collective. This is a difficult task for a poet. There are times when one is not sure memory is reliable, but Mr. Weaver shows a steady and capable hand when he isn't trapped by waves of uncertainty. When the poet is sure, his poems are sure. And these are the times when the trip through "My Father's Geography" is a great pleasure.

D. R. Fair, a poet and essayist, studies and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

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