The “bearable weight” of Michael Cleary’s title is mortality, he tells us in his poem, “Carnal.” That phrase almost perfectly characterizes the tones and attitudes of this striking collection. Rueful, grateful, regretful, and joyful by turns—and sometimes all at once—these lines reconcile the sorrows and pleasures of a whole lifetime, as well as capturing vivid personalities like Tooter O’Heany, Retread Williams, and Sister Lard Ass with a few telling strokes. Only a poet with a love of hard-won experience could say it:
I wonder if any such as me ever made it
all the way over there from where I’ve come
Only a poet with such love could mean it.