Hayden's Ferry Review


Book Review: The Road to Happiness by Johnathon Williams

The Road to Happiness
Johnathon Williams
Antilever, 2012. Poetry.
Review by Debrah Lechner

The theme of this volume of poetry is the road, though not necessarily the trip. It’s a trip anyway.

The movement is through Arkansas, but in the process it covers a much larger territory. Childhood, love, sex, hope, hopelessness, death. But not by turns. All at once.

It’s often dark on this road. The utterly striking poem “Camping in the Ouachita National Forest,” for example:

Midnight, and my father's God can't see
in the dark. Coyotes do unto others
by the tinctures of blood, their panting

Like the whispered chansons of saints.
nightcrawlers know a kind of scripture,
driven to air on the ballasting dew.

. . .Pit stones carry their own commandments
read nightly in the flame's clipped tongue.

I recognize the language but not the words.
I grew up in woods like these, but for years
could not stand the sound of a summer night,

how something as fragile as cricket's legs,
multiplied like the seraphim, host upon host,
might rattle the earth with their need.

The tone of Williams’ work is consistently reverential, sexual, rural and lost, mapped and immediate. Above all, the tone is confidential, so don’t be surprised when you meet a remark that reflects a little disappointment with life. From “Head of Household”:

CEO of this nuclear unit, you must not let
your particles drift. If divorce is fission,
marriage is plutonium. Come. Sit down.
Warm your hands by its constant decay.

You’ve had conversations like these before. Perhaps you’ve just never recognized their potential for iconography, as the possible inspiration for repousse on warm metal. This satisfying and pleasurable collection of poems will remind you of their meaning.