By Andrew Morgan
      80 pp., Natural History Press, 2013.
      Paper, $12.00
      Reviewed by Laura Carter


There’s a secrecy to the fragment, and there’s also a secrecy to the church. In this stunning little book of prose poems, there’s also the dissolution of narrative, told to us the way a scientist might describe the failure of antiquity to sustain itself in a world where modernity seeks to break the labyrinth in two—but how?


It seems to me that this book is structured in a couple of different ways:


  1. As a rendering of what’s looked for, of “promise”: “A reddened pollen collects in a creakless box’s bending. Is saved for the ache of a more promising soil.”
  2. As an inability to escape the book’s title, the month of big hands, gesturing at an experience of being caught—for the duration of a month, a moon—in terms of the characters who find themselves caught up within a vague sort of religious story (the box of the prose-poem gives us a clue), and still built from the alchemy of antiquity because, well, mythical.


Morgan tells us who Abbey is, and Abbey is more like an embodiment of the interior than like a particular place, though we do know that there are shutters here. And there is penitence. This Catholic-tinged narrative is descriptive and yet more than that, in a sense: it is a breaking down, over time (diachronically), of the traditional rules and structures that tend to govern our daily perceptions of what it means to feel remorse or to be, in modern terms, archeologists. We learn that “[T]here is a locket. A diary. A history. There is a titanium rocker.” In this peculiar version of both medieval and modern confession, there is also something behind the characters’, in particular Robbie’s, pallid experience: “There is a door behind The Opera. Robbie begins from the oar to carve an ax.”


The strength of this book lies, primarily, in its ability to juxtapose the surreal with the scientific, to present images directly, but with careful attention to their placement in the arc, or lack thereof, of the month of hands that the characters embody. Robbie is the main character here, yet we don’t really get to know him directly: this is poetry, not mainstream fiction. We learn from the minutest details of the history of his interior: one in which he “has a talon growing from his wrist and he shaves it each day with a different biblical verse.” We also learn that Robbie, “body alone in its rocking, absorbs a format. An end. A change in the zygote of ritual.” This ritual proves not to be the book’s undoing, nor the characters’, but it enables them to present to us a mirror of the way a night of religious import might look, at least from my often Freudian perspective.


Elly, another character, is clearly one to worry over, if it is possible to worry over a character. Morgan writes of her:


I bear it now with a false pride to hide my true pride’s rosy cheeks. I am not complacent. Have scavenged away health, keep my shadowed role in this scourge a whistle along the skin of a future bloom. I rotate the blade of the ax to reflect the moon’s blanket. I build in my pocket a miniature ax of twigs.


This reminds me, inadvertently, of what a writer like C.S. Lewis or one of the other Oxford Inklings—also “into” religious themes—would have written about in a sort of Baroque adventure of the soul. We have here references to the future of promise, while we also see the image of the ax reappearing. In one particular part of this text, the mother wields an ax, and I think immediately of a figure who is brave and fertile promising that there will be a better tomorrow, sans the carpe diem spirit that one might find after the sixteenth century—the period in which science begins to take on full bloom rather than the medieval world of the religious subject. The Priest figure who appears is strangely rational, much as the medieval period would be at its worst, and he “hides in his palm a blackened coin, at rest employs a fork to ritually scrape it away. He has in his posture the removed air of fated order.”


Elly writes her letters, here encapsulated in a section of its own, to a Painter, Herzog, presumably. Her text is full of mellifluous desire in language, and we read lovely sentences such as: “My crutch a melodic needle on the skin of purgatorial silt. I temper an arc atop the stake’s idea.” One gets the sense that each character, but perhaps the female character in particular, is a martyr to the Abbey, with its shutters. That each character is letting the Priest have his say in keeping her or him in the Abbey, in this psychodrama that suits the temper of the setting. Elly, or perhaps Morgan himself, writing in the rules of the Abbey, says, after Elly’s series of letters, that “[T]his is The Word and the law from now until the time in which endings cease.” She ends her series of letters to Herzog by saying: “My trial begins with the return of the dogs.”


The book continues to weave its skillful web of deceit and Baroque labyrinths. We hear from Herzog, and Morgan chooses to have him address us in one block of prose, which is suitable for his appearance in the story. The ax that was so much-feared is used at the end to help escape the story’s Abbey by making a sacrifice, though one could read this differently if need be. In turn, the promise that was given turns out not to be the promise that was fulfilled, for the small effort applied by Herzog in wielding the ax turns out to be a fine way of ending the purgatorial fires that sustained the Abbey and kept the Priest entrenched in his ways as a giver of The Word.


In short, this book is one that makes a good deal of sense as a narrative of closure and close space, something which echoes an orality of words that Morgan hints at. The redeeming gesture of Herzog taking the axe is (at the end) the only way we—readers—have of knowing that the characters have escaped their imprisonment in the Abbey. This torturously medieval setting speaks to us as if writing from that very place, and we get a sense of what it means to be entombed and captured by the religious or ritualistic mindset of a medieval saint, so to speak. In that sense, then, this book demystifies that type of sainthood, and its purpose is served in that it turns upside-down for us to see firsthand the vagaries of a saintly life, which (from Morgan’s wryly modern perspective) is full of danger and pain. The scene of the Opera lets us in on what’s going on in this Holocaust of a world that one reading from a critical theory perspective might take as emblematic of a psychodrama such as Wagner’s, in which romance equals death at the crux of its meat. And yes, meat. We all but get that too, in this book.