Seize, Brian Komei Dempster’s follow-up to Topaz, spares no one the highs and lows of fatherhood. The speaker struggles to care for his young and ailing child—a child whose many medical problems create an obstacle course of moral and emotional dilemmas. How does a father come to terms with the large and unknowable mysteries of a child who cannot communicate in a “normative” way? How does a parent—especially one who is dependent on language—guide a child without the use of speech? And how does one become the parent of another when their own uncertainties, their own wounds—intergenerationally from war, from strained race relations, from constantly being denied a place to belong—are still healing?
I miss exits, veer
through the world
with earplugs, strain my neck
to check if my little boy
is all right. At home I wear headphones
to block out
his squawks. In my own
bird cage. Shut up I yell when he breaks
through. Squeeze his cheeks
hard. Hold him by the shoulders. Be quiet. A flock
of seizures. His fingers claw
into my wrist. He says so
little. I can’t shut him
out. His good arm flaps. Shadows swoop
down on him. I keep him
from falling, keep him
from flying. Some sounds are torture
my dad says. If my boy is quiet, his friends
will like him. When he screams, neighbors could think
I’m hitting him. I strain
to hear the radio, cry
when I drive
to work. A blackbird can be seen
thirteen ways. I fly to retreats to write
about him. When I come
back, he is still caged. I shampoo
his hazel hair, and he soothes me
with coos Ay ai . . . Nice voice buddy
I tell him. He nests quiet
in his wheelchair. Poor little guy
my mother reminds, so much to say
and no words. His mind a deep sky
he will rise into.
Brian Komei Dempster’s central subject—his son’s epilepsy—could not be more freighted with risk, and yet Seize achieves a pitch-perfect harmony of lament and praise, suffering and solace. At its heart is the child Brendan—‘his head, a sunflower / too heavy / on its stem’—and a father’s searingly honest account of what it means to love him, ‘A gold knot / of shadow and light.’ This is a stunning, heartbreaker of a book.
The human body, simultaneously an instance of a promise and the site of trauma and a promise broken, is the boundless occasion of these rich and engaging poems. I love most about them the music of thinking in images, how it encompasses feeling and singing, ranging from the raw and open to the exquisite and philosophical. There is so much yearning in these poems, and so much rejoicing, and wondering out loud about the meaning of our time on earth, especially in the face of pain and suffering.
Seize is a beautiful book, symphonic in its music, intimate in its rendering of human flaws, and heroic in its attempts to portray a father and son reaching out to each other across the boundaries of their understanding. Read the full review.
The tension of a time bomb ticking throughout [Seize] is relentless, and there is the poet, hunched over, sweating, wire-cutters in hand, trying to defuse. Read the full review.
As its title suggests, Brian Komei Dempster’s new poetry collection, Seize arrests the reader from the beginning and keeps them rapt in its world until the final page. These poems glimmer and sputter life’s beauty and brutality in equal measure. Read the full review.