Walter Bargen addresses America’s spiritual center in You Wounded Miracle
You Wounded Miracle
By Walter Bargen
In You Wounded Miracle former poet laureate of Missouri, Walter Bargen, marries photography with poetry in a collection that synthesizes awe, elegy, and doubt. Miracle is an elegy for America’s emotional center, plumbing America’s spiritual divide. America’s in trouble, and trouble informs the poet’s breath, measure, and metaphor.
You Wounded Miracle’s photography offers complementary and contrasting visual information to the poetry. The photographs are mostly Bargen’s, though seven compositions are from two other photographers. Instagram-ready, these are crisp portraits of youths, pets, public art, nature, and bizarre Americana such as a motorcycle tree, which provide secondary narrative or thematic arcs in a collection that poetically begins in a lifeless desert where “democracy is withering.”
Framed with five sections, Bargen anchors You Wounded Miracle with hopelessness, despair, doubt. Climate change and its knot of intersections is the anxious catalyst. Nature is in a fight for its life, a fight that engenders the collection with its stubbornness. In “List Beyond the Stars” even the dead leaves “claw” for their lives in a world empty of turtles, woodpeckers, and where the “alphabet” is “missing so many species.” Drought lays to waste the natural landscapes of many of these poems. In them, nature encroaches upon human territory, spurred by hunger, weather, and survival.
Bargen’s poems reach for connection in a transactional culture that engenders isolation, fear, and doubt. These moments grow organically out of Miracle and resonate throughout each section. Primarily, Bargen examines his generation’s place. Adrift in commercialism, fueled by fake news, America is an apt metaphor for the baby boomer generation, both are aging. Throughout the collection, Bargen catalogs a body’s failings as it catalogs a nation’s failings, often in the same breath.
About halfway through You Wounded Miracle’s arc Bargen offers “This Falling Away Age”, an elegy about aging and human folly as civilization tilts towards the violent right. It’s a kind of horror show for the speaker, who came of age in the sixties, there is a sense that love and hope aren’t enough, that greed and bitterness will win. Throughout Miracle, Bargen’s eye captures American wilderness, rural poverty, and small-town economies, and a culture that continues to exploit the most vulnerable.
Bargen, throughout You Wounded Miracle, asserts that doubt is one of the most prevalent emotions of the human experience. Doubt, like a hook in the gut, pulls, and it can take one anywhere, or nowhere, and like fear, doubt can force a spiritual crisis. “What do you hope to find?” Bargen asks. “Where do we turn?/Where do we turn?” Bargen’s answer, “Into the turning.”
Connection with others is the answer to our ills, Bargen’s poems suggest, and connection, whether it is to our family or friends, is what allows people to heal, which in turn allows people to emotionally thrive. The poet’s imagination is ultimately what lifts the collection towards the light as Bargen plumbs a diminishing America.
Stephen Scott Whitaker (@SScottWhitaker) is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the co-editor of The Broadkill Review. A teaching artist with the Virginia Commission for the Arts, an educator, and a grant writer, Whitaker’s work is forthcoming or has appeared in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, Great River Review, River Heron Review, Oxford Poetry, The Best of Helios Quarterly & The Southern Poetry Review Series: Virginia. Mulch, a novel of weird fiction is forthcoming from Montag Press in 2021.