Domenic Scopa's Review of The Pilot House
by David Rigsbee
The Pilot House
Black Lawrence Press, 2011
David Rigsbee’s chapbook, The Pilot House, re-construes the connections between history, literature, and philosophy, while maintaining the factual planes of anecdote that engage his speakers’ imaginations, empathies, and loves. One moment of this love appears most profoundly in the poem “Only Found:” “One of my most erotic nights / occurred when I felt the thigh / of a stranger against mine at the opera. / Death and yearning alternating” (Rigsbee 4-7). The psychic facets of this encounter manifest the speaker’s expression of the fleeting and contrasting sentiments of death and desire, vying equally or the speaker’s attention. This love ultimately escapes the speaker with the realization that, “it was just an elderly obese woman / with nowhere else to put her legs / but in my imagination” (Rigsbee 9-11). Again, the factual anecdotes blend with the psychic, revelatory declaration that the woman has no where to put her legs, but in the speaker’s imagination—and expression of helpless sadness. The speaker ends the poem with the image of “frowning faces / raising the lid, peering in,” exhibiting the sense of loss that accompanies this experience. Other speakers tackle loss in different terms, such as losing a beloved brother to suicide as in the poem, “Late Nights.” The speaker recalls the night that his brother committed suicide, as with “Only Found,” the ending image elucidates the mental landscape that plagues him:
…as the power-wire hum
of the cicadas, mad to mate and die,
amassing in the oaks and pecan trees,
overwhelmed every reason he brought
with their stern, uninflected monotony.
The cicadas, eager to “mate and die” reflect the speaker’s thoughts, because he imposes these qualities onto the insects. Like the cicadas, the speaker is overwhelmed at the unexpected death of his brother. The only solace, if any, becomes the unchanging tone of the cicada’s hum, harkening back to the resonance of the gunshot. Rigsbee’s poems are that resonance and gunshot, jolting the reader into a deep meditation, only to be woken by his anecdotal narrative.