Review: Anthony Piccione - The Guests At The Gate (BOA Editions, Ltd.)
    Felicia Sullivan
In a brilliant post-humous work, Anthony Piccione's The Guests At The Gate demonstrates a writer straddling his human existence with the approaching afterlife. The poems hauntingly predict Piccione's death and his comfort in his journey into the other world.

The first series of poems from "Dear Friend" demonstrate Piccione's admiration for the world he will soon leave. In Town Meeting:

And it is here,
in a handful of unrelenting survivors, without guile,
or scheme, or the desire to live forever.

In "Meeting as Well Dear Friend", the author continues to exhibit compassion for the "oddities" of life and the people that inhabit. His tone is almost frail and frightened; he begs for more time - to gather more sense of the earth's complexity. For Piccione, there is still much to be done, much to learn. Prolific bell imagery and use of light signal death's call. He carefully weaves these striking images notably in "Because I Listened" and "Down in Prattsburgh, New York". The doorbells are smothered in water or they are small and their sound is slight. The light is mostly blanketed. For a man desperate and clinging to life, death is prevalent, but for now, distant - in the background.

The poems in "Gathering the News" reflect the author's efforts to forage and record human experience. Here, Piccione is an active collector of slice of life vignettes becomes more acutely aware of the grand presence of God. Piccione is also mindful of time - its seamless nature as well as its limits.

In the luminous "Local Writer", the author is faced with an order double of himself as wise and reflective. The older man remarks, "Anything leaves traces leaves a story," and "Imagination is just a remembrance from the other side, of course". The other side indicative of the afterlife and the author is confident that all the memories that he stores will accompany him in this journey.

The careful observance of time is effectively done in "Sitting in the Mall While My Wife Does All The Work" as Piccione muses over our ability to lounge, to toil - in effect to be great wasters of time. The flickering light imagery returns as a call to the gates,

...and now these walls are folding
Nothing holds forever. We sense the news.
So many twisting guests to be kissed at the gate, and lead inside.

Piccione feels his call nearing. The poems in "What Calls Out For Us" are Piccione's summations of the "other" that lingers, taunts and waits for his arrival at the gate. In "Reading All Night at The Table" the other dons the images of flying dogs, winged creatures - very distinct death symbolism. These creatures "seem always at home in their play, circling, waiting, hurrying me to catch up, to move on." Time is again limited for the author as he is encouraged to not toil but to prepare for his death. However, time appears limitless in the afterlife as these creatures play and lounge. The other is an omnipotent guardian in "At Breakfast" protecting sweet children from injury and pain.

These powerful and mystical images are also found in "Just as Something Calls" in the form of a Yankton healer who journeys to relieve Piccione's sister of cancer.

The poems in "In Cool Twilight" offer a distinct shift in tone. A once frightened Piccione now calmly welcomes the other side; he savors life and its beauty, however, these set of poems are of fatalistic acceptance of one's inevitable mortality. He notes with fervor in "Out Into Twilight , Early December" how lucky one is to be alive. Piccione continues his perceptions of life's joy in "Night Train Through Inner Mongolia". However, death hovers near. The "chittering" creatures return in "Lying Down Under a Tree At Dusk", however Piccione's reaction differs from his early poems. He does not turn the page and flick them away like gnats - instead he allows them to remain in their calm silence. The playful nature of these creatures disappears and the poem takes a more solemn tone. The author gives us indication that the afterlife is ready for his arrival. The section closes fantastically with deep introspective emotion. Again, Piccione cries out for more time, "I want to come in, start over..." with urgency knowing that the cycle of life will soon close for him.

The closing set of poems in "Looking Up Quickly" neatly brings the collection full circle. In the carefully crafted "It's Morning" the reader feels we are at the last leg of the journey with Piccione. He leans out of his window as if to inhale the last breaths of life and sits in retrospect and deep love of life and God.

How easily we take life to ourselves, what we wished for, even the
trouble, love, children, calling, all of it pulling us to our knees in
feverish good play. It is a great gift, that kneeling, not matter what
we've done.
His comfort with the other side swells in "Lounging Awhile And Keeping Still". Piccione embraces silence, the quiet. He tiptoes and then wildly flees himself across "the edge of ourselves" or our mortal body. Piccione continues in "At My Mother's Grave" with the image of one's body as a doorway to something other. As the poem closes and Piccione lies on the earth near his mother, the reader experiences a finale - Piccione embracing life while also succumbing to death.

The evocative and astounding imagery woven into the collection in The Guests at The Gate wholly addresses the themes of life, death, joy, and time. Piccione is always vulnerable in his poetry that richly resonates for the reader.

Felicia Sullivan's work has recently appeared in The Oklahoma Review, Rain Taxi Review and elsewhere. Currently enrolled in Columbia University's MFA program, Felicia is the editor in chief of Small Spiral Notebook.


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