Steel yourself for Richard Greenfield’s third collection, Subterranean, a potent series of lyrical elegies. Subterranean’s deeply blurred and layered meditations on loss and rot consume its readers on a skittering journey across liminal borders and landscapes littered with bankruptcies. Here we have debt and we have death. Its speaker walks a desert where the borders of the dead and the living blur at “this edge effect—this overlap” and the speaker, the “orphan of collateral damage” is witness and observer. “They say ‘tender and tender / means ‘pay’ I say tender / but mean ‘soft’ they win . . . my estate and my / epitaph.” In these poems, the loss is all around, and not just through the speaker’s grief for the deceased father, but through the junk mail, the vulturing collection of crows. Greenfield dives us into analogies beneath our daily consciousness—the surety of our mortality as to our morning mailcarrier who brings us bills, propaganda, our complicity and avoidance of the system: “when the apocalyptics / knock I will not answer and they will leave / their brochures.”

The fluidity and plurality of forms in Subterranean echo the layers and multiple sides of grief the speaker travels, and as a stabling ground, the reoccurring black pages of his “Transcription” poems, riddled with em-dashes, return the book again and again to a mourning song, “—earth / swallow this energy—turn it gold in the morning— / take the nighcrawler in my dooryway away.” And yet, among all of Greenfield’s sobering observations, there persists the intent to exist beyond or even within the overlapped ground. Over and over again, he directs “look at the wound trying,” “look at the wound trying to stand” and maybe at the book’s end it does, when we finally approach hope, the possibility of a “new ground.”


—Review by Madeline Vardell