By Todd Fuller
Mongrel Empire Press (2015)
Review by Brian Daffron
Life, death, and the vastness of the cosmos are common themes in many poems. Yet poet Todd Fuller finds ways to distinguish his work by focusing on the beauty of what is between birth and death, with strands of Pawnee history and cosmology woven throughout. This is the essence of his poetry collection, To the Disappearance.
Disappearance is one of Fuller’s major themes through the entire collection, as in the poem “Coming and/or Going,” where birth and death are similar events. The ease with which death is presented through many of his poems is similar to that which William Cullen Bryant used in presenting imagery of nature and death in his poem “Thanatopsis.”
Although death is the ultimate disappearance, there are other poems where Fuller may not be as heavy, but where his writing is equally poignant. In “Seven: Landscapes and Grandpas,” the reader learns about a man who lost the deed to his house in a poker game. “To the Museum of Endangered Sounds” is a poetic collaboration where the speaker of the poem asks relatives, friends, and colleagues about sounds that are endangered or even extinct. These range from a grandmother’s voice to the scratch of records, with a conclusion that “Nostalgia will never be / an endangered sound.”
Fuller takes the traditional poetic subjects of life and death and gives them a fresh perspective in Native American subject matter. A past president of Pawnee Nation College whose wife and children are Pawnee, Fuller finds a way to show his Pawnee influences in varying degrees of subtlety or bluntness. For example, “Out of the Stars” shows the comparison of celestial bodies versus the fragility of life on earth. “Off Frame/In Frame” illustrates the many ways of how love begins. Fuller mentions Pawnee leader Petalesharo in the same breath as William Butler Yeats and Martin Luther King, beginning with moonlight and ending with sunlight.
However, Fuller does not shy away from heavy issues in Indian Country. He may address an Indian murder in a stanza and speak of the difference between the state of Oklahoma everyone knows and “the Indian one.” He also sometimes uses a longer format, such as an unfiltered description of buffalo slaughter in “A Late-Night, Re-Broadcast of the Buffalo Shooting Championship of the World: (with Pre- and Post-Game Commentary).”
Overall, the strongest voice in the work is the poem from which the book gets its title: “To the Disappearance.” This poem features a speaker referring to itself as “the great Colonizer,” doing its best to destroy Native life “One heathen and acre / At a time.” While the poem deals with the known weapons of colonizers such as disease and massacre, it also brings attention to those that are less known, such as “Kakistocracies”—inept leadership—and singing in “Languages that have / Started slipping into / Mist.”
To the Disappearance covers the wide variables between the absolutes of life and death. It can make a reader smile and laugh. At the same time—and sometimes within the same poem—the collection may cause the reader to place the book down and think what it means to exist on humanity’s speck of the cosmos known as Earth. I recommend it.
Brian Daffron is a freelance journalist who served as faculty and as academic dean at Comanche Nation College.