Facts + Figures by Rob Carney will make you desperate for the sound of rushing water, for truths to be spoken, for time to stop morphing places of memory. This book of poems relays what temporary means in an environment that has completely changed and how this physical refiguring affects the birds in the sky to the coyotes that are no longer around to the person who is searching for a reminder of life lived when everything feels erased.
The first section of poems consists of prose poems that makes you question what a fact is; is it only something that can be proven true by evidence or can it also be an experience that shows truth through personal conviction? This idea extends across multiple pages as the speaker actively speaks of spaces that are no longer as remembered. The fact of a forest turned abandoned warehouse is coupled with the speaker’s idea of this warehouse being sixty-one football fields long. An orchard turned golf course can only be proven by where the speaker had a first kiss. Although you can question the validity behind his words, the speaker makes you want to believe what he labels as facts, even if “rolling clouds are bison” is too surreal to be true, because this creation of life is linked to the love the speaker has to his past and his need for the survival of the home that now only exists in his memories.
Voices of the past and present start to break through in the second section, emphasizing a search for reconciliation after displacement. The speaker’s neighbor seems central to this change, as she had once said, “but you’re there now, so be about finding instead of looking back.” This remembrance is the starting point for the speaker’s wanting to feel at ease in his daily life. He searches for what feels like “home” and finds small doses of nature intertwined with urban life, as a crow circles around to memorize a woman’s smile, but there seems to be a darkness in the value of life. The speaker highlights the acceptance of shooting raccoons in this town, the degradation of the education system for children, and the discrimination against immigrants. Carney makes you worry about the state of living in his neighborhood; he makes you wonder with him what there is to find that is uplifting when the past seemed brighter, more positive, more humbling.
Interestingly, Carney gives space on the page for the reader to understand how the lives of wildlife had been disrupted by the construction of buildings. It’s uncomfortable to feel the silence of the night and the calm of birds singing on trees knowing that this environment will be destroyed to make a home for people instead. It makes you wish that the displacement of these animals would never happen. In this chaos, the writer beautifully makes you wonder about what animals would say in this situation if we could understand them.
The most striking speech given to an animal is the bear, who predicts the future of his son’s life being of decay and loss and says, “too soon, too soon, too soon.” This voice like feels more than an imagined speech of the animal; it feels like the speaker’s personal thoughts and worries about his children’s future. In the witnessing of nature being overtaken, the speaker is homesick for a return to a time before civilization touched the places where water, undisturbed wildlife, and grass once was. Amid this loss is the writer’s hope for his son’s innocence. He wishes for his child to be able to sleep well and not be burdened with the awareness of cruelty and insensitivity to life in the world. Like the bear, he hopes that his son will not realize the breaking of good memories with the reality of destruction for many years to come.
It’s heartbreaking to realize Carney’s anguish to the dismemberment of his home. His poems were a culmination of trying to understand his identity through ties to memory and locations that created his childhood and adulthood. In trying to find a place of belonging, there’s a lack of contentment and a sad reservation for accepting life as it is now. However, in this misery, there’s a beacon of hope for a future where this pain isn’t inherited. Even more importantly, Carney makes you realize that even if a person or a home is gone, the memories never will be.
Ashley Somwaru is an Indo-Caribbean woman who was born and raised in Queens, New York. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Queens College to immerse herself in pride for her mixed tongue, religious upbringings, superstitions, and cultural traditions that have made her into the red hibiscus she is. As a storyteller and poet, her work seeks to magnify the voices of women in her community, who have been silenced and abused, and to rewrite the history of her ancestors, those who were forgotten. She hopes to find them. Somwaru’s work has been published in Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the Spring 2020 issue of A Gathering Together, and will be in the forthcoming FEED issue of No, Dear.