Unguarded Crossing by Bob Brooks

Author Bob Brooks
Author Photo: Nico Brooks

The sprightly wit and incisive satire of Unguarded Crossing, Bob Brooks’s first full-length book, are a delight, all the more so when their philosophical underpinnings reveal themselves. There is a keen intelligence at work here and an equal measure of heart. Be prepared for double-takes, constant surprises, rare honesty, and arresting images. Susan Donnelly has commented that “The poetry of Bob Brooks is both startling and inviting, as it keeps drawing the reader into an internal conversation full of riddle and inquiry, where nothing is taken for granted, least of all the writer’s perceptions. 
Unguarded Crossings cover
Cover Photo: Bob Brooks
Brooks begins by asking himself why and how poetry arises in the first place, using the humble metaphors of car-washing and dog-walking and ends this first section with three words: ‘can’t explain it.’ Continuing his meditations in Section Two with the very human themes of sex, love, addiction, conflict and loss, he concludes Unguarded Crossing by stepping back, so that large, natural landscapes of desert and coastline may act as metaphors, and possible answers, to all the questions he has wondered about before.  One thinks of the masks of comedy and tragedy in reading this poetry, since it has qualities both funny and very dark, often in the same poem. This beautiful, intelligent and well-structured collection is a conversation worth joining.” And this from George V. Van Deventer: “Reading Brooks can be likened to eating ripe peaches — sweet and physical, Unguarded Crossing explodes in lively tales of daily life. And it tastes good.”

Bob Brooks was educated at Harvard, served as a translator in the U.S. Army, lived abroad for a time, worked as editor at a computer systems company for many years, left that job in the late 1980s, and started getting poems published in the late ’90s. He was born in Asheville, North Carolina, and now lives in Concord, Massachusetts and Stockton Springs, Maine.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-00-9

Copyright © 2011 by Bob Brooks

6" x 9" paperback, 82 pages




It’s as if you were to write poems
and submit them to little magazines

and after a while a couple would be accepted
then as time passed more and more of them

until their acceptance would seem to be a matter of course
and the editors would be writing notes to you requesting them

and you would pretty much never get those little impersonal
apologetic good luck somewhere else rejections any more—

that’s how it would feel if the dog

you took for a walk daily since he was a pup
and on whom you tried out notions and phrases

and drafts of whole pieces of poems
of course not expecting any response

is accepted at boarding school

then a good liberal arts college
gets a graduate degree and attends devotedly

even more than before
to your verbal offerings

making perceptive comments
leading you to new felicities of expression

more satisfying insights and ever unlikelier leaps of the imagination.



Amazing how many
nouns come swarming
like kids to the ice-cream truck
at the sound of a single
attractive adjective.

“Too smooth,” she says,
speaking of the chicken sausage,
how it’s ground too fine—
a good sausage ought to have some
variation in it,
some coarseness of texture.

But I think for a moment
she means something else:
the waiter, the wine, both
syrupy, the music
oozing out of concealment
in the ceiling, the marriage.



Even hours after Hurricane Bob—
the Wrath of Bob—
made its minimal midnight landfall
thirty or so miles down the coast from us,
I couldn’t sleep. I was still gauging
each new instant’s dangers.

I could feel the waves snatch at the seawall
that the front of the cabin was perched on.
The wind was still turned up way too loud.
The back side, I’d heard, was supposed to be
worse than the front side. Had it come through yet?
Was it still coming?

Next morning I’d write in my notebook
about how my wife got up and made the coffee wrong
and reset the electric clock wrong,
strolled on the torn-up beach for a bit
and settled down to read a thousand-page novel
by Jean Auel, and how irritated I was with her,
how I fumed: how much I’d unlearned.
I’d been sober eight months.

A drunk, I would write, no matter how good
or how bad he feels, knows exactly why.
It’s a knowledge he’s always safe in.

But at three in the morning,
between one side and the other of the hurricane,
while my wife beside me hummed through slumber I
ticked like eleven alarm clocks.



I could organize, clean house.
I could describe from memory

the shape, feel, color, heft and smell

of a lathe-turned olive-wood bowl,
converted to an ashtray with a rat-tail file

snatched up one night to crush a scorpion
when our daughter was eight months old.
That winter—

for heat that winter
we burned scraps from the bowl factory
in the fireplace,

kept them in a pile downstairs
in what our landlady called the garaje,

though we didn’t have a car then.
Kind of a street-level cellar.

Which is where the scorpions bred,
in the woodpile. The floor upstairs

was white tiles and black tiles
in a tidy checkerboard pattern.

The scorpion scuttling over them
translucent in the firelight.

The grip of my fingers tight on the
bowl’s thin notched rim.



He couldn’t believe it when he saw it.
So he took a picture of it,
or rather, two pictures:
one from the bridge
showing the Rio Grande
six hundred feet down
at the bottom of the gorge;
the second from a quarter-mile back
showing the gray bridge square on flat sand
stretching in all directions to the picture’s edges
with no riverbank greenery,
no visible ripple in the level of the landscape
to raise expectations,
as if there were no river,
no gorge,
nothing but a desert
with a bridge on it.
And he had to maneuver his car to the road’s shoulder
and climb on top of it
sweating in the sun
to take that. And:
he had to explain the picture, always,
both pictures,
why each needed the other,
the order of events and the events themselves,
not only how the river glittered
like a strip of tinsel
in a long, dark box,
but exactly where
and at what distance
from what landmark.



Even in stout
sandals or boots,
when you hike the rock
beaches on the Maine
shore you don’t
sightsee much:
you keep watch for
where to put
your foot next.
But here and there you
come upon a sand-
patch, a moment’s
grace, a Lilliputian
beach you can
stride like Gulliver
and let your eyes go
wandering. Perhaps,
since it’s late in the day,
you’re in search of a
turning point,
although there’s no
law that says “Turn”:
if you want, you can
follow the land’s
edge indefinitely.
Touch the fingers of
your left hand lightly
to the continent’s
outline—the way you
were taught to do
to negotiate mazes—
and keep walking.
North past Eastport
and around the
Maritimes. Up the St.
Lawrence and down
again. In and out
rivers and bays around
Canada to Barrow,
Anchorage, Eureka, San
Diego, the Panamanian
Isthmus, the Gulf’s
long curve, Palm
Beach, the capes of
Carolina and
as if you’re stitching
the whole ragged
land mass in place
like a quilt.
You could do that.
All the more reason
why the point you
choose to turn at,
if you do,
has to be extra-
ordinary, a landmark
you won’t forget
when your back’s
turned. There’s one—
a silhouette, back-lit
by the late-day
sun: an enormous
sperm cell, cartoon
tadpole from a life-
education pamphlet,
poised at a tilt
on the beach with its
tail upraised and
its nose on course
to the water. However,
you’re still in stride,
and each step closer
to it clarifies it, until
it’s only an ordinary
washed-up, bleached-out
tree on the beach,
with its thin end
curled in the air
and a big boulder in
front of it. But you’re
not done yet. Now look:
generations or perhaps
centuries of seagulls
seem to have picked
this one particular
rock to crap on,
frosting its great
dome with a thick
impasto; and here
next to it some child,
or idle adult, laid out
spine-shorn sea-urchins
neatly on the tree’s
fat trunk like crabapples
balanced on a white
thigh. Turn now. You
know it. This is it.

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