“Safe as Lightning” by Scudder H. Parker of Middlesex represents the author’s first collection of poetry. Though several of his works of verse have appeared singularly in prestigious venues like Vermont Life, this volume from Rootstock Publishing marks the premiere opportunity to read his luminous, wry, wide-ranging verse all in one volume.
Parker may be well-known as a 2006 gubernatorial candidate, but his exquisite lines reveal some of his other community positions: amateur naturalist, son, grandfather, small-town resident, husband, and memory-keeper.
Parker interweaves these multiple roles throughout his deceptively simple lines to create layers of meaning. In “The Voice He Grew Up With,” the poet is a son watching his mother grappling with her husband’s memory loss as the poet himself feels a kinship with a painting on the wall.
“Increasingly the names of things / fall off like tired labels from manila folders / ... I sit / in awe of the painting—a sapling / in a clearing—aching with its solitude... [My mother] lives in a landscape without courtesy... / She knows her husband’s voice is gone.”
As the speaker feels connected to the hurting tree, readers can see also how the speaker’s mom also feels solitary because of her spouse’s inability to remember things. Yet, additionally, the speaker remarks that he feels “a new kinship” with his mom in her pain. And so we see how paradoxically mom and son remain together, yet alone, as they experience the man’s memory loss. The preceding description also showcases Parker’s ability to create apt, vivid comparisons. The way labels lose stickiness is an ingenious way of comparing something concrete to the abstract concept of dementia.
This “aching...solitude” pervades Safe As Lightning, but that ache simultaneously makes the book such a joy to read. The poet’s work underscores impermanence yet offers advice on how to treasure the little things. In addition, Vermonters will admire the book for its sheer Vermontishness: appreciation of wildlife and the changing seasons, mentions of farming and hometown traditions. A series of odes in verse to the state. But Parker also brings in the new as he talks of his experiences birding in other states, recalls a youthful friendship that could have been more, and admonishes broccoli in rhyme.
Dappled throughout with gorgeous illustrations by Adelaide Tyrol — whose work you may have seen in The Outside Story right in this paper — this volume belongs on every Vermonter’s bookshelf.