Jason McCall’s Silver hauntingly pulls the gods and giants of Norse mythology into modern-day Alabama, where the glow of Thor’s lightning starkly illuminates a landscape brimming with the impossibilities of religion, the ghosts of addiction, and the dark legacy of the Middle Passage. The clashing of these historical contexts is skillfully gathered in McCall’s hand and channeled through a perspective which at once hints at universal truths and reveals an intimately personal understanding of life. The poetry shared here can draw laughter and provoke thoughts just as easily as it can send ice stippling beneath the skin. There are moments of unashamed, unabashed honesty:
“I’ve traded your trinity for the Gospel
of the Flaming Sword. My father
is Loki, the god of hustle,
of slipping out of the master’s chains.
My sons are Hati and Skoll, and they will swallow
every sun and moon until the world is as dark
as the skin of my fathers.”
(from “Black Boy Dresses as Fenrir for Halloween”)
There are instances where determination mixes with the sadness of unrealized dreams:
“…I keep trying to catch the gods and hold
them, even though it always ends
with me choking on their bones
and spitting them back up into heaven.”
And there are moments when reality flashes its teeth and reveals its true, unchanging colors:
“If you wake up and I’m gone,
the sun won’t notice; it won’t
shed a ray in remembrance of me.
The wind won’t feel any different
when it touches my favorite part of you.
The shadows will just be one less infinite.”
But what makes Silver burrow so close to the human heart is the all-too-mortal nature of the Norse gods. These are not all-powerful beings who watch over mankind’s affairs, but finite stayings against the inevitable, icy darkness—temporary guardians, skin-and-gut creatures who not only accept their downfall, but who wearily embrace it:
“For the first time, I couldn’t sniff
tomorrow. I ran to Odin; he should have had an answer,
but when I found him he shouted
“Finally!” and raced down my throat.
(from “Fenrir Explains”)
Where does this leave us, when even the gods can’t stand to exist a moment longer? There is a soulfulness here, a waiting spirit of humanness—that of the underdog, the shadowy second, the has-been, the never-been, of he who hoists the silver trophy at the end of the race—which proclaims that golden, divine perfection is impossible, that maybe the mighty gates of Valhalla, Heaven, and even Hell were made of cardboard all along. Ultimately, when everything is laid interminably on the line, our heroes may abandon us, the gods may bow to eternal twilight, and wolves and ice may tear the world apart. Everything is inevitable, but it is up to us to stand as straight, as strong, and as true as we can. With Silver, Jason McCall has made such a stand.