A Night in Brooklyn: Poems
by D. Nurkse
With A Night in Brooklyn, the mysteriously initialled D. Nurkse has produced a fine, vibrant collection, poignant without being mawkish, expressive yet austere, and—within the constraints of its fairly conventional structure—sneakily subversive. The volume, its author’s tenth, is the work of a hyper-observant loner, attuned to the rhythms of the city, half in love with the past, half in love with the future, sketched in lines that skew just this side of modernist opacity. In Nurkse’s hands, standard-issue free verse, broken into stanzas of irregular length, seldom running over a page or two in length, is energized by sudden leaps of poetic imagination rendered pleasingly concrete, with “daylight in our cupped hands” or “August inching / sideways through the blinds.” Images of eyes, reflection, vision—the poet “entered your level eyes like a minnow”; “the rain / simmered in the dog’s huge eyes”—recur with haunting regularity, becoming over time a fully realized motif redolent of perception, doubleness, mirroring. The voice is conversational without being banal, effortlessly evocative, and graced with a touch of the metaphysical, a feel for the “shining absent presence.” Many of the poems trace, with rueful accuracy, the locked-together waltz of romantic attraction and dissolution, where “we made love and each thrust / carried us deeper into the past,” before “we grow old [and] it ends in chaos.”
To be sure, the Brooklyn that Nurkse conjures up, with its “domino players / hunched over folding tables” and boys “taking engines apart / on stoops” is not the Brooklyn of artisanal markets and organic diaper creams, but rather the older, grittier, working-class city that lies, Pompeii-like, under strata of memory and demographics. These are missives from precincts (Canarsie, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Flatbush) and occupations (factory worker, housepainter, bartender, truck driver) that rarely figure in Brooklyn’s chic post-millennial landscape. But, A Night in Brooklyn is too engaging to be considered a mere dispatch; in these poems, the quest to be “united in a radiance / that will not fade at dawn” becomes universal.