Featured Writer: David Fraser

A Review of Almost Full, a poetry collection by Don Schaeffer

Written by David Fraser

In Almost Full Don Schaeffer, self-proclaimed phenomenologist shows us with his senses the realities and appearances of life. He is a keen observer of the human condition, minimally measuring out his words in short concise spurts.

The opening poem "Next Few Weeks" sets the tone with the opening line "She's gonna want to die". Short poems, no longer than a page unassumingly capture the poet's observations about himself and others, those who are waiting to die, characters who experience loss, have regrets, and feel things are slipping away. Schaeffer's landscape is the public bus, the streets, possibly the hospital or the retirement home where he and the people he observes reflect on life and their process through it.

Almost Full, as a title, conjures up images of a full life, the glass almost full rather than the glass gradually emptying. We get the sense even though there is slipping, sputtering, fading away and dying, that everyone to some degree and especially the poet has a feeling of satisfaction of having lived an almost full existence.

The individual in the first poem is doing the arithmetic, weighing the pros and cons, waiting for the final announcement of her death. There is a captured resignation here, and a sense of the inevitable. In other poems this foregone conclusion exists. In "Unregeneracy" the narrator sees himself going back into the earth, a part of the earth, snow, water spray lit by the sun. In "Social" the narrator says, "I will be nothing and you will be all," after describing how the spider is cannibalized by her offspring, and how the salmon perishes after spawning, giving her body to the greater nutrient pool. In "Fading Sept-Embers" the poet observes nature tightening up in the cooler nights and brief days of autumn with winter approaching and the reader can't help thinking of the obvious metaphor and its cycles toward eventual death. In "Original Felony" the narrator is harassed by the neighbour's dogs as if he were an interloper, feels he is being stalked by the police who are forensically scraping paint samples from his car as if he is hiding from a hit and run accident. He says, "Crime is like a dark looming/choice. I fear, I crave/the fire and ice, the real place,/with the strong men/who can take my breath". Here "fire and ice" connect to the famous Robert Frost poem, "Fire and Ice", where Frost questions how the world will end. Schaeffer in his narrator's paranoia and sense of entrapment has a similar duality, one of fear and craving for the final destination.

In "Portals" we see the entrances and the exits, the tunnels, worm holes in space, the tunnels of the inner ear, and the tunnel of the birth canal. Maybe there is a desire for an exit tunnel. In "Passover" with its historical religious connections we see a need for the narrator to return to his roots. Schaeffer says, "Now I want to go back to Pharaoh."

Don Schaeffer observes phenomena around him, "watching silently with eyes wide". He sees simple things such as breakfast expectations of a bagel and cream cheese on bagel day, a response to a happy poem posted on the bus, teenage girls not only absorbing their music but also absorbed in the singers, young gothic-attired riders on a late night bus, Joyce, his companion described in poignant tender terms, an old woman meticulously folding her transfer and cozily placing it in her purse in a special pocket patted safe by her hand. He sees himself or a persona of himself in a life race as in a marathon, running for survival, pushing on to the point where things unravel and the "strings of (his) life" can't be pulled back together. In "Smells" after describing the process of cooking for his lover sees himself as vulnerable, standing "at the frying pan on a translucent bridge over a trans-substantial ravine."

In many of the poems there is a sense of this vulnerability, and disconnection. He says in one title that there is "static in my love song". In "Missing Dr. Rosenblatt" familiar things as in a dream are slipping away. The main street is "the gathering place of litter", the concession truck outside the hospital is there one minute with the smell of hamburger but there is no meat; the server turns away; it is dark and the truck is gone. In "Just Five Years" we see the narrator in seclusion, "I was at the corner of my own eye/a flicker of dark motion in the ice at the end of parking lots" and he wonders about "these odd, quiet lives".

On other occasions Schaeffer uses the metaphor of the stage, and in fact the reality of the stage for a performer. In "Night of the Stars" the performer is in the spotlight vulnerable to the whoops of the audience and he concludes, "Art is an embarrassing striptease". In "My Epic" with its ironic title, we move from the camera's view of seeing the wide angle spanning the earth then narrowing to city, and to street, or from the sweep of the planet to a stage set and finally to the entire house, the house as in home or the house as in theatre, worn down to "one crowded corner". It really is this narrow crowded corner that most of us live our "almost full" lives. In "Losin'" life is compared to a quiz show and the big buzzer dramatically signifies the wrong answer. Finally in "Thoughts on Mountains" the poet concludes, "The world is/tinker toy models in my mind./ What I know and try is real/and I have seen and made the mountains".

Almost Full by Don Schaeffer is a good read. You'll digest these poems many times and go back and forth, make connections and start to look at observations, Schaeffer's visions, and your own. The surface has only just been scratched. There are many secrets left.

Almost Full (2006)

By Don Schaeffer

Owl Oak Press

101 Calle de Quien Sabe,

Carmel Valley, CA 93924

ISBN 0-9770380-6-8

Don Schaeffer was born in the Bronx, N.Y. in 1940. He holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from City University of New York (1975). Recent poetry has been published in The Writers Publishing, Burning Effigy Press, Understanding Magazine and Quills, Ascent Aspirations, Lilly Lit, Tryst and others. Don lives in Winnipeg, Canada with his wife of 40 years, Joyce.

Email: Don Schaeffer

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