Bending Under the Yellow Police Tapes

James Doyle

Steel Toe Books

James Doyle's Bending Under the Yellow Police Tapes opens pleasantly enough, which might be expected when you consider Doyle's now, according to his bio anyway, enjoying his retirement years. But don't be fooled. While “Peasants Playing Bowls Outside a Village Inn” paints a quaint 14 th century scene, it only does so for the first 13 lines. And then the poem takes a sharp left:

It is 1345 and everyone is up

to date…

just past the trees, the newest kind of death

is whistling to itself and peeling an apple
as if it had all the time in the world.

It's a dark turn, after all, because these folks enjoying life have no idea the plague's about to break. And it's a welcome twist, too, that sets the tone for this collection because, just like those peasants playing bowls, neither can we possibly know what plague's about to claim us, let alone when. Later, in “The Sick Child,” the speaker recalls volunteering at a hospital long ago, and still the speaker considers a stricken girl no doubt dead by now, and as the girl looks toward the door of her room, the speaker reflects:

I imagine her
willing the door closer
and closer to herself, but she could

just as easily have been holding
it at bay….

Doyle couldn't make his aim any clearer: This is a book more interested in questions than answers, in gestures, to be precise, not conclusions, as another poem, “Office of the Dead” attests:

He carried her body into the cemetery
in his arms. He would bury her

himself. They were married sixty years….

The little
flesh she had at the end was so sheer

he thought of it as her negliglee,
as white as the one she wore that night

over half a century ago.

Doyle even finds time for humor. Here's a snippet of “Vitamins,” a poem that reads like a personal in the paper:

If there are others out there
who also take twenty-three
pills at a time four times
every day, please contact me….
I am a young seventy-nine.

Looking for a minimum taker of sixty
pills daily. Call me if you want
to twist some tops off. Let's rattle
the bottles till they're gone. Smokers okay.

The only thing that could make this book better might be addition by subtraction. Weighing in at over sixty poems, Bending Under the Yellow Police Tapes could probably drop at least ten poems without the reader noticing. Still, I like the idea of poet in his golden years still showing the young studs just how to get it done. And by the way, just what kind of pills is he talking about anyway…?

--Jay Robinson