In the Time of the Jacarandas

In the Time of the Jacarandas

By Michael Hogan
Egret Press, 2015
Paperback $12.00
Kindle $5.99
Review by Jim Tipton


In the Time of the JacarandasMichael Hogan, in his latest book In the Time of the Jacarandas, writes: “we slip down/the gravel slide of age hoping not to outlive/our money, our memories, our minds.” We are “like wrinkled bills, worn/but still negotiable…”

The author of more than twenty “novels, histories, social and political essays, short story collections and poetry,” Michael is well known to Lakeside readers for books like Mexican Mornings (2006), Molly Malone and the San Patricios (2011); and of course the The Irish Soldiers of Mexico (published in various editions since 1997), which was the basis of two documentaries and a fine MGM film, One Man’s Hero, that starred Tom Berenger and the lovely Daniela Romo.

Michael, now in his seventies, faces the fact that “My heir has gone/into the grave before me” and that “I am older than my father ever was.” He himself has “lost the option of dying young….”

In “Uninvited Guest,” the poet laments that “We always thought we’d finally be safe/these golden years: money in the bank, house paid/the children with their children/and our heroic worthy hearts at ease.” But Michael concludes the poem with these almost frightening lines: “I hear the creaking of the front gate/and know it is much too early/for any welcome visitor.” In a later poem, “Like Geometry,” he announces, “I know that no accumulation of wealth can save me.” Only he can understand the “private club/with many visitors but only one member in the end/that he belongs to.” What about the conundrum of life? Tomorrow he “will have to buckle down/if it is to make any sense.”

What then do we do when we realize “one cannot be everyone, or even someone forever”? For Michael, he will continue doing what he has been doing these “twenty years in Mexico”: “casting words at life/as Huicholes in Puerto Vallarta throw their nets/into the water flowing past Yelapa Point/again and again/praying for the miracle of red snapper.” And he will look at memory as well, remembering the boy “learning to write a name in first grade in complex calligraphy called Palmer Method/invented by nuns, he thinks, to torture boys./These misnamed Sisters of Mercy.” And in later years remembering “those bronzed by the desert sun./We see them as we pass on the highways/laboring in chain gangs in pink coveralls/while the High Sheriff, unapologetic and fascist,/leaches his poison in the political soil.”

But Michael will also continue to take walks, looking for “the smallest detail” that can save him, a wild rose, the sun “behind a cloud like molten copper/if only we knew how to pay attention.” (Elsewhere he ponders, “The things we never write about/are lonely for our attention.”)

Each morning he can find “some small thing/to begin the day with….bracts of bougainvillea, /a whiff of jasmine…a flock of crows…/the flutter doves make when they mate in the garden…./Something to be happy about.”

I have long held the whimsical theory that every collection of poetry needs at least a couple of dogs. In the Time of the Jacarandas it might be a dog who “knows exactly what the day will be/bounding forth across the grass headed for a eucalyptus/where the squirrel waits.” Or it might be a dog on a morning walk who “pulls on her leash anxious to be moving on,” who later in the walk “tilts her head as if listening/ to some faraway voice she once knew.”

On his 70th birthday, “the dog bounds like a joyful shadow. Everything is new.” He remembers another dog “back then….and a boy who clung with his pal in the dark/when a summer storm rattled the windows.” But Michael also knows that “that if we ran together fast as we could when I was a boy/and the dog was a pup/and time bent back round again/that I would still never catch up with that life/which seems as real as the ground fog which I can almost touch/but then as the sun rises/disappears as if it were never there.”

Indeed, man and dog are so bonded that in “Christmas morning in Providencia” “The dog and I head home led by our mutual leash.”

Well, it should be obvious by now that Michael Hogan’s In the Time of Jacarandas kept knocking at something inside of me. As Michael says, “What use is poetry anyway, if it cannot break your heart?”


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