Billiter’s poems, spaced to stutter on the page, create a compelling yet dark world of small-town childhood that is disorienting and not all that bucolic. The town of Shinbone is an intense place: boys set bottles of cheap aftershave on fire, which segues with uncomfortable ease into grandmother’s killing axe dispatching chickens and Soup’s hand shredded in the corn dryer. This collection pushes a recollected past to an extreme, replacing memory with myth and lacing narratives of disfigurement, accident, wildness, and murder with a strange enchantment. Childhood here is no idyll, but rather the dreamlike entryway to the desires, doubts, and dismay of adulthood.
AFTER A NIGHT OF STEADY RAIN
Under these old lindens a couple of long ago
kids pressed bare feet into wet cement, left
imprints of their soles in the sidewalk. Water pools
in them now, little baptismal fonts in the lost church
of childhood. Go ahead, no one is looking. Kneel
down, dip your fingers into those sacred puddles,
anoint yourself in the shade of the lindens. The sap of all
saplings still pulses through crooked limbs.