Creature is a complex poetics of vitality, and it immaculately cleaves: even as it underscores how living in an inherently inhospitable environment will dispossess us of the world and one another, making animal of man, it sutures the rent evolutionary tree, glorifying the interdependence of each extant thing. Michael Dumanis expertly cultivates the multiplicity of language and makes of “creature” a marvelous contronym; we are a creature as in a beast, debased, beholden to nature, and we are creature as in an extension of creation, improbably sentient, mortal, here. In “Autobiography,” the speaker attests to the contradiction at the root of cognizance: “Am, as an animal, // anxious. Appendages always aflutter, / am an amazing accident: alive.” How does the human mammal embody both and neither — communal and itinerant, leaving home to approach it, as an immigrant and a geographic nomad, as someone’s child and another’s parent, as being and thing? How do we negotiate our ouroboric identities while attuned to not just our own fragility, but an impending global extinction event? The answer is the absence of answer. “In the beginning, I thought a great deal / about death and sunlight, et cetera,” Dumanis admits in “Squalor,” but “The Double Dream of Spring” absolves us of outsmarting impermanence. “O what a ball I had, spending the days.” And what should we do in this vernal brevity but exhaust it? We each only have so long to “[trace] [our] hand over the stony bones / that, fused together, hold [our] only face.”
I carry myself out into the rainswept blur.
I lift my pleasant voice over the coming flood.
I have nothing to do that I’m going to do.
I keep meaning to purchase a dog. I keep waiting
to email you back. When I see you again will
I know who you are? Once I wove you a mask
of rattan and hair. Once I carved you a mask
of painted wood. I brushed my wooden leg
against your wooden leg. We had learned to imitate
each other’s breath. When I see you again will
you know who I am? Will you place your words back
into my open mouth? Once I held you for years
in the stones of my eyes. You were an ineluctable act of God.
Into the drainage ditch we hurled our toys.
Creature is a brilliant book, a gift that fills needs we didn’t know we needed. At the crux of it is a voice that refuses to be nailed down to some single identity, a craft so capacious it evades even as it seduces. What Michael Dumanis manages in these poems is the variety and diversity inherent in any life when the one who’s living it is willing to pay attention: “I am solid gold, I say, and I am capable/of loving you until the final asteroid/hides Omaha under an ocean of ash,/but you’re unavailable.” This book is a word-drunk movement. I am so envious that I didn’t write it.
Michael Dumanis’s Creature is the poetry book this year you have to read. Steeped in issues of morality, mortality, plasticity, and existence itself, Dumanis paints a picture of life that is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is terrifying. Just as Dumanis writes, “There’s more beyond / but not too much,” the book asks us over and over again what it means to be a living thing and the answer we are given is not simple or easy to swallow. Each poem’s landscape of perfectly chosen and placed language is a land to wish upon. For just as “Everything will be taken away before it’s handed back,” Creature tells us there is hope after loss, even if it is fractured. There is hope in this book, too, as it speaks: “I forget my life, but then I remember my life.” After all, there is poetry still to write which replaces the silence of death: “When I grow up, I do not want to be a headstone./ When I grow up, I want to be a book.” There’s no doubt that Creature contains the real poetry we have been waiting for for a very long time. Read it and feel your spirit cleansed with the truth of our present and our future—”we, who are about/ to steer our dinghy/ into the open sea.”
In Creature, Michael Dumanis measures the divide between the inner and the outer worlds of an accomplished immigrant life. The poet’s dark sense of irony provides a temporary relief from the weight of the immigrant loss but it cannot hide an unmoored heart, full of fevered self-scrutiny and longing. Creature is a gift of generosity to a divided, inconsolable human being.