Now, perhaps more than ever, Brian Fanelli’s second full-length collection of poetry, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, is a much-needed celebration of hope and humanity in small-town America.
This collection set mostly in rural Pennsylvania, is a coming of age, a young man growing up, growing a social conscience, learning what it means to lose, but always sifting through the rubble to find that last shred of hope. In the current political climate, where plain empathy is sorely lacking, Waiting for the Dead to Speak is a much-needed relief from hateful, one-sided views; Fanelli’s ability to direct our attention to the other side, as well as the possibility of change, whether we are battling a bully, advocating for political change, or listening for ghosts to speak, is infinitely human.
Making the personal universal has always been Fanelli’s strength in his stream-lined narrative poems. Through his tight, precise language, rich images, and balanced narrative voice, we can’t help but experience with him the bully, or the Pennsylvania winter as a member of the working class. In “For Jimmy, Who Bruised My Ribs and Busted My Nose,” he understands and empathizes with his bully, just as much as his dying father and grieving mother in later poems. He gives us no choice but to follow suit:
This poem is for the bully who never cried,
who hid belt lashes from us, who ran from the sound
of his father’s battered Ford tracking him down,
the son whose hands tightened to fists like his father’s,
who uncurled his fingers to study my blood,
and then extended a hand to lift me up.
In this ugly election year, full of polarized political parties and venomous speeches, Fanelli’s ability to make us recognize the humanity of the bully, whether physical or metaphorical, is a well-timed gift.
Poems like “Adjunct Blues,” and “Listening to Springsteen on I-81,” remind us of Fanelli’s Scranton roots, and that he is tuned into the problems concerning our country today. These and other poems, like “Mid-Winter Scene,” give humanity to the working class that politics can’t seem to grasp, while simultaneously tapping into the power of nature to remind us of our human failings:
Today, my car inches over dirt roads,
as I slow down and eye fields of white
and ponder the dead-
my father, who laced up boots,
slipped on black gloves,
shoveled the sidewalk
in front of our countryside home.
A kid, I peered out the bedroom window,
spotted the green of his Packers jacket,
watched puffs of his breath rise as he hunched over.
I helped when I felt guilty.
Today, I think of the dead, grandfathers
I never met, and how their backs
must have bent like my father’s
as they labored in mines,
stopping only to wipe sweat and breathe.
The voice in Waiting for the Dead to Speak reverberates long after the book is closed making it a collection aimed at beginnings rather than endings. Understanding, compassion, and hope glimmer in a gray world.
Waiting for the Dead to Speak
98 pages / $14.95
Patricia Welch is a PhD student at Binghamton University in the Creative Writing Department. Her poetry and reviews have appeared under Kinney in PANK, Adanna, Yes, Poetry, and Indigo Rising. She lives in rural northeastern Pennsylvania.