Domestic Recusals by Simon Constam

Simon Constam’s Domestic Recusals is a moving and honest investigation of how we grow old with our partners. In this collection, the poet steps back and observes, refraining from judgment while exposing the faces of intimacy that we often do not admit, offering what is observed and felt, letting it evolve to an overall impression.

This frankness surfaces immediately in the opening poem “A Better Wife,” in an admission made by the speaker, recently widowed:

“He wished he could think of her passing
as his loss of heaven.
But he knew the truth and dreaded it,
he wished he’d had a better wife.”

The openness shows as well in “The Idea of Sex,” as the speaker reflects on the fading urge for sexual union, and the near dread of what to do when the partner wakes up. It is further revealed in “About Beauty,” in which the speaker is overwhelmed by beauty, not as an ideal, but as, in a way, an obstacle that clouds the mind. There is elsewhere, however, a yearning for the beloved, a longing for their return, be it from a journey, a divorce, or a death. The poet uncovers the intimacy that can exist in separation, and also the separation that arises in the closest intimacy.

The poet uncovers the intimacy that can exist in separation, and also the separation that arises in the closest intimacy.

Love has many aspects, manifesting in different moments: one loves the changes (“I know a Woman”), the familiar body (“Little Black Book of Scars”), the predictable habits (“She Returns Today”), and the moments of frustration with later moments of closeness (“Rich in the Moment”). Love is not sweet and sentimental, although moments of sweetness and sentimentality do arise. So also do moments of disappointment and anxiety:

“I think some sort of compliment right now might stick 
but I’m unsteady here, hesitant, angry, a surgeon
never before having successfully completed
this precise operation, an author about to submit
a lesser work to his publisher, a politician about to lie …

(From “A Small Spray of Sunshine and a Deliberate Breeze”)

Repetition effectively builds the intensity and momentum in this compilation. (“Pentimento”, “If I Were a Painter”, “Certainty”, and “Seduced”, for example). Images like “Fragile as a flower set on fire” in “The Idea of Sex” are vivid, unusual, and apt. Throughout the text, carefully placed line and stanza breaks focus the attention, and the images and impressions generated remain with the reader.

Simon Constam’s earlier collection, Brought Down, examined the Jewish experience in scripture, tradition, history, and daily living. The same level of illumination is cast in this collection, but this time on the mystery of aging together – in the discovery of the last narrow space between two people, how it never closes completely (“Inflammatory”), in the realization of the challenges of aspiring to love someone (“Meta-“), in the “impious” union of “Old Friends”, in the sadness of the fading presence (“Passage”). I was left with the overall impression that intimacy, although not easy together or apart, is a natural part of life, and something to be longed for. It is a rich and satisfying read, and once again, a book to place on my reading table, to be returned to and pondered, many times.

A rich and satisfying read … A book to place on my reading table, to be returned to and pondered, many times.

Simon Constam is a poet and an aphorist. His poems have been published in various magazines, among them The Jewish Literary Journal, Poetica, and the Dark Poetry Club. He has published a new, original aphorism under the moniker Daily Ferocity on Instagram, daily for almost three years.

Publisher: Ace of Swords Publishing (Jan 8, 2024)
Paperback 5″ x 8″ | 52 pages
ISBN: 9781990496479

 -- Website
Anne M. Smith-Nochasak grew up in rural Nova Scotia and taught for many years in northern settings including Northern Labrador,  the focal setting for her second novel. She has retired to Nova Scotia, where she enjoys reading, writing, and country living. She has self-published two novels through FriesenPress: A Canoer of Shorelines(2021) and The Ice Widow: A Story of Love and Redemption  (2022).