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HALFWAY DECENT SINNERS Entry of Kevin Walzer
Publisher, WordTech Communications
www.kevin-walzer.com/blosxom.cgi

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Michael Cleary's Halfway Decent Sinners is a book unlike most of what we've published: unabashedly funny. The book is full of tales of quirky characters and their all-too-human foibles, narrated chiefly in the context of a Roman Catholic upbringing, and rendered with affection. Cleary has a sharp eye for character, and is unsparing of himself (if one may presume that many of the poems' narrators are versions of the author) as he is of anyone else: but also as forgiving, as well.

Cleary's verse line is smooth and breezy, which make many of the poems quick reads (in the best sense); only later does their underlying seriousness come through. This poem provides a good example:

Paramount Theater:
Solipsism in the ’50s

We grew up on them, so names
of streets meant nothing to us
but neighborhoods—places
closer than history, more common than trees.

Washington. Lexington. Lincoln. Sherman. Grant.
Elm. Pine. Park. Walnut. Cherry. Grove.
Some were plain and simply
adjacent until we learned better in school.
Orville and Wilbur. Ft. Amherst and Garrison.
Mohican and Fenimore and Cooper.

On Food Drive Saturday mornings
our parents sent us down those streets
to the Paramount loaded with cans
of soup, baked beans, ravioli, stew.
Whoever the poor people were, they seemed
far from us as the mural ceiling
with its fabulous chariot race in the sky.
From the balcony we watched The Robe,
Demetrius and the Gladiators, Ben-Hur
.
The dreary rote of Catechism turned
TechniColor and CinemaScope and Real.

One summer afternoon
Boom-Boom and I found the backstage door open
to fresh air and not a soul inside.
We never wondered what made us do it
or worried about what could happen.
Climbing up to the back row seats
we bolted forward, leaping on chair backs
like railroad ties all the way down,
then up again and down and out to the alley.
Never wondering what kept us from falling
or getting caught or why, with no tickets gone,
someone showed the movie on time
so beyond us other lives spoke to each other,
flickered, made their way in the dark.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.

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