Does any poet love his characters more than Dave Lee? As we read his trilogy, we sense that in the vast theater of his mind, Lee is watching and listening intently, with a grin on his face. Listening to the one-breasted cashier, Hooter Hagins, who keeps a running total in her head while discussing the weather; to Mr. Tittle, the algebra teacher, “whose breath wilted plastic flowers”; and to Bus Pennell, the one-eyed man who owns a “one-nutted dog.” Each of these people comes to full and lusty life.
Lee lived in Texas, and it’s in his blood. Within the first two lines of a poem, we are settling in on a porch in a small town, where the vet is the “veterananian” and the devil “the Debbil.” We share in gossip and get caught up in town intrigue. Lee makes us love his people, especially Hooter, the town celebrity, and the hero of these poems, a woman who can smile and wish a nasty, supercilious customer a real nice day.
By his own admission, these are Lee’s first narrative poems in eight years—the number not a coincidence, by my count. We have come out of a dark time, a cynical time bereft of humor and compassion. We can almost hear the poet breathe a sigh of relief at the thought that real people matter again, the ones who work as cashiers, the ones who hand cashiers their food stamps. Dave Lee has once again found his stories—luckily for us. We want more!