The Uncompromising Attitude—
And Other Poems About Life and Death

The dominant force, image, or concept of James Scofield’s Remember Me, Whispers the Dust is thing. In the poem “Thing,” it is ineffable—which is why it’s called thing; it is also inexorable and inevitable. It falls with falling leaves, rots with rotting trees, ravages pretty faces and ticking hearts, and lurks in empty homes. Thing is emptiness, unstoppable time, aging, and death. It’s everywhere. Thing is a “central anguish impregnating even the innermost atom.”

More than anything else, though, Remember Me, Whispers the Dust is about death. Death happens in Birkenau and in Harvard Yard and is a constant in this collection, as it is in the world.

Several of the poems explore the darkest side of human nature, the impulse to cruelty that justified Birkenau, that would torture a bear for sport, that would make a sailor beat up a prostitute, that would turn chopping wood into a fantasy of sexual violence. There are horrifying visions of the future, a world rotted out by ravaging disease.

Not every poem in this book is dark, however, and there is tenderness and affection in some of those poems that are dark. “Higgins, the Poet” is a humorous tip of the vulnerable hat to formal poetry; and there are sweet tributes to an old cat, Ginger, and an old dog, John the Baptist—but these companions are old, and we know what that means…. Remember Me, Whispers the Dust also celebrates life, and the descriptions of nature and the natural world are lush and magical. The poet describes snowfall, a pond at night, a field.

But don’t be fooled by the beauty of these descriptions or the beauty of nature; it has the same mission as the cosmos: to advance toward the end. Life is a field, and “field and grave lie level and the same.” It is, we are reminded, a cruel universe we live in. “There is no innocence in autumn.” We annihilate bees; the universe annihilates us. The whole system marches in the same direction. “We laugh and build our world of melting snow.” There may be comfort in knowing we’re all part of a process of birth and rebirth, that’s what’s left of us will “mingle with the dew on the rotting bloom.” But this is no easy thanatopsis; there is no escape from the inevitable rotting of the bloom.

The magic trick here is that the poet stands up and faces these facts of life and death, and yet Remember Me, Whispers the Dust is not in the least depressing. It’s is enlivening in its courage, and it’s buoyed up by wonderful style. James Scofield has a good ear for language and a fine eye for the details of small moments that mean big things.

James Scofield has been a writer of poems and essays for over thirty-five years. His poems have been published in many literary journals, including The Sewanne Review, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Amicus Review, and The New Orleans Review.

Remember Me, Whispers the Dust
by James Scofield

ISBN 1-56474-414-0
72 pages, paperback, $12.00
Publication Date: April 2003

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