Okay, let's cut to the chase: I really, really like this book. It's a spunky new collection of poems, with the delightfully insouciant title of White Panties, Dead Friends and Other Bits and Pieces of Love
by a man named Bobby Byrd. White Panties, Dead Friends
is not your typical book of poems (whatever that may be). Like many books, these poems reflect on aging, on love, on loss, death, and on other inescapable truths of the human condition. The difference is that they're written with a quirky humor and a touch of a bizarrely Southwestern-Dharmic hybrid of the surreal that make them absolutely yummy.
Most of the poems are long, elegiac at times, and full of unforgettable characters and situations. Lorenzo, "short and stout with big hands," Osama bin Laden's soul, Art the sax player and James the Cadillac driver, as well as other unique and startling characters from the author's life and imagination make their appearance here. Even Pancho Villa has a cameo appearance.
There's a long sequence of poems in the center that reflect on the lingering death from meningitis of Byrd's friend, Steve Sprague. The sequence addresses the connections and relationships one makes in a life, and how those left behind struggle to give meaning in a situation where no meaning seems to be available. These poems are serious, and are seriously moving. Byrd sustains a quality of writing here that is superb, giving voice to anguish, hope, and loss with quiet dignity, and proves that he can write straightforward poetry as well as anyone.
However, it's in his other work that Byrd's voice really stands out, as in this excerpt from "The Soul of Osama bin Laden: A Very Short Novel."
The day began with October darkness and wind blowing dust through all the cracks in the house. A train was moaning, going someplace else, anyplace else. I turned on the radio. National Public Radio was announcing that Osama bin Laden's soul, tainted and crippled by fundamentalism, had escaped her master's body. A woman reporter in Baghdad was stating that the tall bearded Arab with obsessed eyes had announced the news on a video tape broadcast by the Al Jazeera network. The leader of the al-Qaeda brotherhood did not seem to care. He believes he is doing the work of God, and he suffers no doubt. Now, without his soul to plant confusion, he will do as he wishes. Prominent Muslim theologians, the reporter continued, have theorized that Bin Laden's soul must have listened to the cries of the dying ? she must have wept, watching the souls of the dead men and women and children become food for the moon. The moon is always hungry for souls. Thus, the soul of Osama bin Laden escaped the body and she became a bird. She went looking for a place that looked to her like home.
I find this whimsical, irreverent, haunting voice compulsively readable. In fact, I breezed through the whole book in one sitting, and then read parts of it again. Check him out: try "Why I Am a Poet #7," "Traveling by Air," and "The Day I Met Pancho Villa in the City of Angels." Trust me: you're in for a treat.