The Man Who Got Away

by Grace Cavalieri

New Academia Publishing 2014 $20.00
A review by Sonja James

Grace Cavalieri’s The Man Who Got Away is a profoundly moving collection of poems that pay homage to her deceased husband, the sculptor Ken Flynn. They were married for 60 years. The poems, which celebrate their life-long relationship, also chronicle the final moments of Flynn’s life.

In “One Year Ago Today,” Cavalieri writes of the role dreams play in keeping a deceased loved one in our lives. In this poem, it is the one-year anniversary of the day Flynn became ill. Cavalieri addresses him directly as “you.” On this particular day Cavalieri herself does not feel well and decides to take a nap. While she sleeps, she dreams a complex and vivid dream which concludes with her travelling up a hill where she hopes to meet up with Ken: “So up the hill I went to tell you where we’d meet/and you were there! You were here!” He then appears to her again in a present, waking moment, and she revels in his presence: “In your bright red sweater in my office in my chair/ Today Of all days/You always said that you knew how to thrill me/And you do You do You were there.”

In the prose poem, “Garden Party,” Cavalieri again addresses Flynn directly: “This isn’t so bad. Everything’s the same. You’re just not here.” At the poem’s conclusion, she clarifies why she continues to speak to the dead: “I kept calling and calling because I know the dead have memory. I know you remember my name. Everyone is here waiting.”
Cavalieri next celebrates the many years of her marriage to Flynn in “Looking at the Sight of His Back:”

how long were the shadows
tucked into the sly folds of our
marriage, we kept looking at the
sky trying to make sense of it…
If we stop telling this story
it will go away.

In the playful lyric “Japanese Cats,” Cavalieri boldly expresses the book’s purpose: “I want to talk about my Beloved/who left before dawn overlapped the sky.”

The poet’s overwhelming grief manifests itself in “Supreme Rushing,” which opens with a question followed by an immediate answer: “Do you know what I can’t do?/I can’t stop crying.” This time Cavalieri casts a longing look at the past: “In the music of the past/will be a place/by the water where once/I found my husband/and children who were real.”

She continues to grieve in the prose poem, “If in Fact He Ever Lived,” as she catalogs his items left behind in the closet: “I see his red and white striped shirt hanging against all the others left untouched by his breath.”

Cavalieri then shifts modes and explores her own shattered sense of purpose in “Most Things Don’t Have Conclusions.” The poem concludes with a stunning self-observation: “I always wanted his happiness to depend on me/Now what do I pray for.”

In the long poem, “The Sun on the Cat,” Cavalieri sums up a lifetime of mutual need: “At 17 years old he said ‘Don’t leave me.’/He said ‘Don’t leave me’ before they put the tube in him.”

As an extended elegy, the poems in Grace Cavalieri’s The Man Who Got Away engage us so directly that we both weep and rejoice with her. For Cavalieri, poetry is the medium by which she erases the artificial border of death. In Cavalieri’s world, death is not victor but pawn. Ken Flynn lives in these poems where she poignantly declares, “Losing is a keepsake to remember./If we give up loss, what will we have left.”

Sonja James is the author of Baiting the Hook (the Bunny & the Crocodile Press, 1999), Children of the Moon (Argonne House Press, 2004), and Calling Old Ghosts to Supper (Finishing Line Press, 2013).
This review first appeared on November 6, in the Weekender section of The Journal, a West Virginia newspaper.