A Collection of a Life

Cushing Applies Poetry as a Tool to Examine Life

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A human’s life can change in such dramatic dimensions that an individual may not even recognize the person they were a year ago or the reflection they gaze at in the bathroom mirror. Bill Cushing’s A Former Life takes a long hard look at a lifespan in its entirety and all the growth, loss and death it witnesses. This collection is much stronger and far more effective than Cushing’s previous publication, Notes and Letters. There is a focus present in the text which elevates his work as a whole; some of the pieces will even bring readers to tears.

His opening poem not only shares a title with the collection but immediately sets the tone for what is to come. The speaker in the piece is suddenly caught in a riptide of memories which tear him from the present and dispense him into his once upon a time existence as a child. He sees a little boy who looks like an old playmate ride past him on a bicycle. Then there is a dog that could have been his childhood companion frolicking nearby, but “…the bike was quiet, lacking / clothes-pinned baseball cards clattering against spokes; then / the ground the dog played on / returned to today, and instantly, / so did I.” The poem is elegant, quick and cutting. The disorientation of déjà vu created by these verses is a special kind of art.

Like Virginia Martin’s Love Without Borders, there are poems inspired by the Christian faith which crop up from time to time. Yet, unlike Martin, while this faith does seem to provide some solace for the speaker, there are layers of cynicism present in Cushing’s work. A biting example appears in “To A Mother, On The 2,025th Birthday Of Her Son”. The speaker, after tossing several questions at the mother of Jesus as to what the experience of birthing someone in a barn was like, bitterly remarks that “…no matter how miraculous this particular conception, your son’s fate would ultimately be a blood-soaked death.”

Then there is the piece “Apologia”; a testament of Lucifier, the fallen angel who takes the time to clear up a misconception: “It is ego, not knowledge, that is original sin.” This “…fallen spirit…” believes its temptations to be a “…testimony to man’s worthlessness…” Cushing’s poetry not only struggles with the hardships of the physical existence but of a spiritual one as well.

A young boy is frozen in midair, just about to plummet into the refreshing depths of a community pool. This cover, which encapsulates so much happiness and conveys a carefree attitude, is a rather odd choice for this contemplative, rather serious collection. Set to be released through Finishing Line Press this year, A Former Life traverses the tragedies that often accompany the human experience with a certain frankness. In “What Love Is,” the speaker assures the readers, “We don’t see the twists and bends in the / road of life as we make our blind way, yet / still when we’re there, we learn to shoulder / its load…” Though cynicism may snap its teeth, patience and time are there to match it in Cushing’s verses.

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