The Black Forest
Christopher DeWeese
Octopus Books, $12 (paper)

This debut collection is packed with personae the way a forest is packed with trees. Some of those trees, however, are scored with faces; others are X’ed with orange spray paint. A multitudinous “I” runs through The Black Forest like a root system that feeds very different but interdependent flora. (Or fauna: wolves and bears abound.) On the one hand, we have the cockeyed, studied, is-it-only-play-acting of “The Gambler”: “‘Enchante, princess,’ I say / every time a hand is dealt. / I break out a miniature guillotine / and ask for no cards.” On the other, there’s a citizen who is at once damaged, outraged, and looking for answers: “I’m going back / to the atheist suburbs of my life, / where there is no you / and the wars seem more honest.” Indeed, poems such as “The Soldier” and “Command Command” highlight the book’s sociopolitical concerns. At times, DeWeese’s various tones and voices fuse unforgettably, as in the collection’s combustive title poem: “A boorish silence consumes the forest / like a forest around the rich. / . . . Tax incentives for dying / make me worry about the government / but it is a human thing / to worry over my penis.” In the end, The Black Forest takes as its subject nothing less than American subjectivity itself, bemoaning a time when “The night lowers ladders / to sell us jewelry we don’t need, / stars that know nothing / of the darkness we inscribe around them.”