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September 18, 2013 / barton smock

review of David McLean’s book of poems ‘nobody wants to go to heaven…but everybody wants to die’

nobody wants to go to heaven…but everybody wants to die

poems, 1994-2013, David McLean
Oneiros Books, 2013

review by Barton Smock

“I snorted a line of memory today
for us, oblivion”

– from McLean’s a line

The poet David McLean strikes me as an aggressor. One whose power is to shrink himself when one is looking upward. While one yells at God, McLean whispers a speck of dust into a dog’s water bowl and waits for the silence of God. I’ve used the words in this book often, and any story my narrator leaps from may begin and end as such:

I am the wise child, undead, undead not being living’s oppositional twin. I am tasked with being the local boy David when soul has assigned to me Goliath. Or, I am the sleeping God to my soul’s restless Freddy.

But as my narrator may have been invented merely to know how he or she might suicide themselves, McLean is adept at being presently destined, as he writes in day of Laodicians (for Jack Kerouac):

“her prissy purse a coffin’s tender weight”

or in street song for Edith Sitwell:

“ , the bone
that hungers not for lithesome peace

but to feel the meat fall piecemeal
as it writhes to nothingness again; “

In these works, history means and was meant to be itself. But McLean allows it more dignity than being merely predisposed, as in it is dark now:

“ it is dark now
and history is a glorious intended
absence, meaning hiding her night
in a lucky bushel; “

I am enamored of the intended McLean employs liberally, of the work this work does to shape itself not into a path toward beauty but into perhaps a dead rabbit beneath a grotesque tree set long ago beside said path; subtitle to the ugliness we mistake for adornment when in fact it is the untouchable reflection we are unable to necklace.

As a crime scene must endure such indignities as yellow police tape, the poem must suffer inside the man aiming his bullhorn at a graffiti covered wall. It is possible David McLean is not the right man for the job. It is possible a worse world exists. It is possible this world is haunted by a failed one. Take this opening from in harbor (after ’In Harbor’, WCW):

“ the ships mutter to one another and their silent voices
are like the sea, but it is not of the sea they speak,
memory means nothing to these dreamy leviathans “

We are here now, peopled with absence. McLean knows this, and for it offers the invisible poetry of David McLean.

nobody wants to go to heaven…but everybody wants to die
poems, 1994-2013, David McLean
Oneiros Books, 2013

available for purchase here:



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  1. another review | things the dead say

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