Gregory Orr’s childhood in the Hudson River Valley was disrupted by two deaths. When he was twelve, he accidentally shot and killed his brother, a scene described in his sequence of seven short poems, “Gathering the Bones Together”:
A gun goes off,and the youngest brotherfalls to the ground.A boy with a riflestands beside him, screaming.
When he was fourteen, his mother died in Haiti, a time recalled and reawakened in “Black Moon” (Gathering the Bones Together) and “Haitian Suite” (The Red House). Orr’s early work, obsessed with grief and guilt, transforms these deaths into dream imagery, which may seem like an evasion, a looking away, but which is actually an intensification. The porcelain face of “The Doll” (Burning the Empty Nests) is disfigured by a “bullet hole/ like a black mole” on its cheek. Orr’s losses do not disappear: They leave behind shells, husks, evidence of their absence, like the coat his great-grandfather made from his favorite horse, “because when the horse died/ he wouldn’t let it go” (“A House in the Country,” from Gathering the Bones Together). Orr’s poems occupy a world “where the dead and half/ dead live together” (“Lullaby Elegy Dream,” from The Red...
(The entire section is 418 words.)