These Hands of Myrrh (Kelsay Books) by Scott Ferry is a highly inventive and uniquely spiritual collection of poems that have a gentle and wise humanity, populated by the living and by ghosts alike with sober urgency in assured, masterful brushstrokes. These poems confront the light and the dark of human existence and how that applies to these life and times we all share, past and present.
Our hero is a nurse working with Veterans in the Pacific Northwest, starting to raise a family and giving up alcohol at the same time. The title comes from the poem “After Leaving This Shell”–a spare and profound arrangement that confronts mortality and the circle of life, some of the central themes of the collection.
father, father i missed you–
how do i unbreak this throat?
can i sing to my children
through these sumac roots?
my wife, can i hold you
with these hands of myrrh?
Ferry’s poems here are accessible. He threads dense imagery together with effortless dialogue that transports the reader into a free-verse cinema. They deliver hope in the face of Covid era uncertainty with exquisite lines like the ones which close “The Japanese Andromeda”:
I have evaded invisible clouds
of virus shooting from mouths
threatening to erase light and breath.
So I dig in with both hands
and loft the brittle shells up into clouds
of translucent hail which dance on the deck
like hummingbird bones. I feel
the moist flowers in my fingers
as the fragile skin between brightness
and silence floats around our bodies.
Ferry’s poems chronicle his fatherhood. His audacious hope for his children is so touching, some of the verse guaranteed to draw tears of both joy and pain:
bright coil build your cities
of belief and faith.
And, please, son, for you and your children,
let the stream of your tears sink into the
One of my personal favorite poems from this book is “after confessing” a visceral, raw hangover that clings to hold itself together, a poem in which Ferry bravely confronts his issues with alcohol. The closing lines are brutal and desperate:
the next day i text my wife
that i have eaten week old leftovers and i am not dead yet
and she texts me back how do you KNOW we’re not dead
maybe this IS death
all i say is because it hurts here
but it hurts less when i feel her
feel her through this elastic wire
Another stand-out is “Sons” which rallies the deep and noble cause in Scott Ferry’s belly and his heart and his mind to make the world a better place for the next generation:
So I remember, most times, how to interact with my God
In front of my daughter, and now my son.
I don’t ever want to see them curse
all the gifts in their hands.
There are poems of mournful beauty like “1994” that grace this book like roses in a flower bed Ferry where plants his free verse. Some of the hottest lines in the whole book come inside its chiseled vacancies, which he fills with
no one could comprehend
the gnawing perfection of my
I, for one, am glad Scott Ferry broke his silence. He has a gorgeous, heartfelt and sincere literary voice, one that is much needed in uncertain times when it’s so damn easy to only see the gloom and the doom, instead of the whole beautiful picture he weaves here with the craftsmanship of a dad building a birdhouse with his son and sending off his benevolent vision into the world.