He Will Laugh?

An ex-student muses on Douglas Ray’s book of poetry
by Sara Brande, Contributor
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He Will Laugh, they said. I expected songs of joy and exaltation from the title. What I got was an inundation of lonely reminiscence…

…much like my current experience away at college, leaning back in my rigid, wooden chair and thumbing the pages of this recently published collection by Douglas Ray. There isn’t much laughter generated by the narrator. His undying love for Isaac, the Boy who Laughed, is, simply, a tale of life. Young love, young lust, young life – it’s all underscored by the fact that one lover is dead, and one lover is lost. I’ve been skimming over the pages, trying to fit together my mental image of these young men in love with my own ideas of love. Is it really all about the nights of messing up the bed?

I’m looking at the words but not quite grasping the raw emotion that the author placed in the dialogue. But that’s okay, because I wasn’t really the best student in Douglas Ray’s class anyway. In high school, Mr. Ray taught a Contemporary Lit elective. The nine of us who trekked to school at night for an elective – what was our collective motive? Our individual desires? I thought that I’d enjoy a more modern approach to the time-honored art of setting feelings on a page, but really I just thought Mr. Ray was cool, and wanted to hear how he perceived more current authors and essayists. I wasn’t a good writer, I wasn’t creative enough to attend the local “School of Fine Arts.” I’m still not. I can try and force my jumbled mess of thoughts out from inside of me, like the damned spot of a tear that I imagine the narrator in He Will Laugh might have shed for his lover, now gone.

Reading this collection of poems, acting as stories, I felt too many different versions of melancholy and intense, sweet joy all at once. Split into ‘Now,’ ‘Then,’ and ‘Time Unredeemable’, He Will Laugh covers the entirety of human emotion, surveying what makes feeling, well, worth it. The collection opens with a Jack Spicer quote from “A Poem Without A Single Bird In It”:

There will be nothing left
After you die or go mad,
But the calmness of poetry

And in a way, the story is calm throughout all the turmoil of what happens. There is a profound sense of serenity dictating the narrator’s intimate descriptions of the remnants of his lover, how “in this mix of autumn shadows / and sunlight, I can barely distinguish / your spindly tattooed limbs from the tree’s”. The surprising calm the narrator emotes, even after such loss, is almost philosophic in nature. It’s refreshing to think about the eternity of the world. Even after death, something continues. Whether that something is life left behind, or devastation, or a memory etched upon a stone, something stays constant. And that in itself is comforting.

He Will Laugh is now available for purchase on Amazon.

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LANDFILLS is a grassroots literary, arts and culture online collective based in Chicago. All work is original, except the featured images that accompany text posts (which are blatantly stolen from tumblr.com). Complaints should be directed to Po via Twitter.
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