When our family traveled to the Gulf Coast for a few days last summer, a copy of Thomas Lynch’s “The Depositions” went along for the ride.
You might say that “The Depositions” was my beach book for the season, though I rarely read much on the beach itself. The waves and sky get most of my attention, and I figure it’s a waste to come all that way to the shore to spend my afternoon with a book.
What reading I do near the beach usually happens in a rented condo as I shake the last sand from my toes and curl up on a couch not my own. That’s how I first got to know “The Depositions,” Lynch’s collection of essays about his life running a funeral home in Michigan.
Books about the mortician trade might not seem like the most cheerful summer reading, and “The Depositions” made an especially odd choice last year as a pandemic claimed so many lives.
But as I mentioned in an earlier column, Lynch’s reflections aren’t really about death. They’re more about how his daily closeness to bereavement underlines the wonder of life itself. Lynch “takes pains to point out that his experience hasn’t made him more insightful than anyone else about the shadow of mortality,” I wrote back then. “But what abides in ‘The Depositions’ is Lynch’s keen eye for the seemingly small daily gifts that more of us have been noticing in this troubled year.”
All of this has come to mind because Lynch is back on my reading list this summer — this time, for his new collection of poems, “Bone Rosary.”
The title of the book was inspired by the soup bones that Lynch’s old dog leaves behind, littering “the lawn like hard SpaghettiO’s by the time I shuffled around to pick them up, lest they be run over by a power mower and shot through a window or take out some unsuspecting human.”
Lynch isn’t a warm and fuzzy writer — some of his poems have a wicked edge — but he’s alert to the little things that reveal the miracle of being alive. As he puts it, he believes “in the life of language and its power to make us known to one another and to ourselves.”
That ideal seems most fully realized in “Local Heroes,” a poem written some years ago that, in the wake of recent news events, couldn’t be more timely. It’s about the people who provide rescue, comfort and condolences when disasters strike. Those of us who live in Louisiana know deeply what kind of solace such local heroes can bring.
“The daylong news is dire,” Lynch writes, “full of true believers and politicos … But here, brave men and women pick the pieces up.”
It’s a powerful reminder that in another challenging year, the real heroes might be just down your street.