A Halfway House Where No One Leaves

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In three very different but equally gorgeous sections, Griffith guides us through every poetic form from sonnet to villanelle, all while examining the idea of what it means to be in one place instead of all others, what it means not to know your own momentum and position at the same time, to never see the moon from every window.

Rob Griffith, in The Moon from Every Window, attempts many things at once, which isn’t surprising from a poetry collection. What surprises, though, is how well he accomplishes them. In three very different but equally gorgeous sections, Griffith guides us through every poetic form from sonnet to villanelle, all while examining the idea of what it means to be in one place instead of all others, what it means not to know your own momentum and position at the same time, to never see the moon from every window.

In the first section, Griffith deals with domesticity, sharpening his poetry on everyday ideas. The collection opens with “The War at Home,” where a dog, “a boxer mix,” wages war on a springtime hydrangea by habitually using the bush as his toilet, but try as the dog may, he can’t win the war and kill the flower. What does this mean for the dog? For us, who may be trapped in similar wars at home that we will never win? Through the course of the section, Griffith explores a relationship falling apart. In Griffith’s world, we all become chained to monotony, even the undead. In “When the Zombies Come,” what is interesting is not that zombies descend; it is that the zombies quickly become us. The poem concludes:

I like to think they’ll mill and stare, then bend
to take up our uniforms, our jobs
and lives—a zombie checkout boy who sacks
the bread and eggs; the zombie line ref
who shambles downfield to make some bad calls;
and zombie teachers gurgling out declensions
for lie and lay. And at a desk, paused
with pen in hand, a zombie poet writes
a zombie sonnet for his sonnet love. He sings
of flawless gray skin, of eyes like curdled milk.

Here we see how Griffith shines. His exquisite verb choice (“mill,” “gurgling,” “paused,” “shambles”), his intriguing line endings (to pause on the word “pause” is at once obvious and effective), and his ability to make everything mundane (even a zombie invasion) show Griffith’s attention to language and the discipline of poetry.

The most notable and obvious evidence of his devotion to detail is his pervasive use of poetic forms. Like Natasha Trethewey in Native Guard, Griffith employs poems that adhere to forms at random, causing the reader to constantly ask, “Is this poem a form I don’t know?” Usually I am unimpressed by neo-formalism since form usually trumps content, but Griffith manages to utilize form without sacrificing what he has to say. “Heisenberg to His Wife” is a sonnet, “Patchwork Garden” is a haiku (and like all haikus, it is too short to be effective), and other poems show an impressive penchant for blank verse, as seen in this opening line from “For a Party at a Friend’s House,” “Not everything is elegy, thank God…” And this wordplay shows another of Griffith’s strengths: humor. Like the zombies, Griffith’s poetry does not take itself too seriously, even when it wanders into heavy physics.

The second section of the book focuses on two seemingly random and unrelated thinkers, Werner Heisenberg and Jonathan Edwards. In the first poem of the section, “Heisenberg’s Love Song,” Griffith begins with an epigraph from Heisenberg: “The momentum and position of a particle cannot / both be known at the same time. Knowing one will disrupt / knowing the other.” The section explores the idea of our inability to know where we are and where we are going. This builds off the collapsed domesticity of the first section. “Heisenberg’s Love Song” ends: “Are you moving toward me or away?” The final stanza of the second poem in the section, “Heisenberg to His Wife,” reads:

And nearly everywhere at once, it jumps
From state to state, absorbing and emitting
All those quanta—a light switch off or on,
No in-betweens. It’s here we are finally stumped.
Like love, the change is total, and I’ll admit,
The trouble lies in telling when it’s gone.

We cannot know our position and momentum, Griffith seems to say. Instead, as he declares in “Heisenberg in Old Age,”

each moment is simply a kind of waiting
for the next, a halfway house where no one leaves.
He wonders what it’s all for, a world
where the present is myth and nothing exists
but memory and anticipation.

Griffith, with all his deft wordplay and formal skills, is most impressive with his consistency to his poetic project. The Moon from Every Window meditates on the Heisenberg principle, that a particle’s momentum and position cannot both be known, and how it relates to people. By introducing the idea in the second section makes a reader rethink the first section, which is thrilling. With only a few exceptions, like “Ruth’s Alexandriad” which lacks impact, the poems in this collection succeed. The third section, with multiple poems about fishing, show a speaker on the move, either hitchhiking in Tennessee or finding his Chinese doppelgänger, showing a man now aware that where he is and where he is going cannot both be know, so he focuses only on where he is. The final lines in this strong, intriguing collection, in a poem called “Disappearing,” read: “…I’d just be gone, / like stars swallowed by the mackerel-light of dawn.”

Read “Disappearing,” a Rumpus Original Poem by Rob Griffith.


Joey Connelly teaches English at Kentucky Wesleyan College. He earned his MFA from Ashland University in 2010, and he serves on the editorial board for Floorboard Review. His poetry has appeared in Louisville Review, among other publications, and he has poems forthcoming in Medulla Review and Splinter Generation. More from this author →