Foundling wheels have been used since the middle ages when the prospects of motherhood have been too great for new mothers to bear. Usually placed at hospitals and convents, the founding wheel was a revolving cradle built into an exterior wall so that a mother approach the founding wheel and leave her child without fear of seen or judged. On one hand we have abandonment. On the other we have mercy, since the alternative to the foundling wheel could include any number of unimaginable horrors enacted by a person consumed with panic and anxiety. This dialectic of compassion and terror helps to shape the poems in Blas Falconer’s The Foundling Wheel, a collection of poems about adopting a child. Falconer walks us through the mystery of becoming a parent as he turns in word, toward the quiet, solitary self.
The book is framed with two poems: “To Press the Air, to Bless the Silhouette” at the opening and “How to Tell a Story” at the end. These two poems frame the occasion in the book—living in the details of daily experience, with family, with ourselves. These two poems sort of pull at each other while doing the work of framing the collection—its music, rhythm, patterns, how it sees. For example, consider the first “To Press the Air, to Bless the Silhouette”, in its entirety. Note the delicate play between the hard, concrete truths of the world, displayed in the opening line or in “the dog’s muzzle soaked in blood”, and the quiet space to breath provided between the couplets:
The owl and the field mice—that argument—
And spare no speck of dust or fleck of light,
All fair and foul, lush and bare: the vine
That takes the barn, the nest inside the brush
(the dog’s muzzle soaked in blood);
to resist caving in, taking comfort
in routine, facts sorted, shrinking from
disorder; to cut the fruit and not think
of the heart, to think of it and not flinch,
or flinch and cut through its core all the same,
you wake up, walk out late at night still dazed,
and stand in the yard, which, at day, lolls
under heat, the red trumpet blossoms bob,
where, at dusk, strays rise from the tall grass
to wander streets, fearless pack
in search of food among the trash you’ve left
exposed. Below, the city rests. You’ll test
yourself the way you always have, a boy
stepping into the dark and the story
it held—whatever it was.
This poem is our instruction manual for the collection. It shows us how Falconer has filtered the world through his perception. Out from the quiet we see “the dog’s muzzle soaked in blood”, brutal and necessary, balanced with graceful imagery “…the yard, which, at day, lolls/under heat, the red trumpet blossoms bob,/where, at dusk, strays rise from the tall grass”.
That movement, from brutal, tangible reality to finding an afternoon of memories when the dog holds his paw to our faces marks the trajectory for these poems. The Foundling Wheel is filled with this kind of detail.
The real force of these poems comes from the space between the details. These are quiet poems that express a grand view. The occurrences of quiet, between stances, between images, between poems, are spaces cleared for the reader to ruminate.
Consider, “Another Point of View”:
Think of her trip outside the city,
months of hiding—a room so small
she crammed the mattress in
and left the box spring on the street.
She lay there while the world
pulsed against her window: a stoplight
on its timer, cars braking, a song
she’d like to sing, fading out.
At night she dreamt a bubble born
from her open mouth: No, she said
to the dark, and the word floated up,
so even the air belonged to her.
The scene is crisp. The scale, small, cramped. Colored red with the flashing stoplight, red brake lights through the window. The quiet in this poem is shaped by image, the isolation and terror of the reddened room, by the space between stances, and by the enjambments. Line three in the first stanza and line two in the final stanza fall unnaturally, unexpectedly, and alter the way the reader breathes. And the resolve that follows the second example illustrates a turn toward recognition and fortitude: “No, she said/to the dark, and the word floated up, so even the air belonged to her.
This is a common pattern in The Foundling Wheel. The poems in their exploration of relationships, solitude, and the self, find their way toward possibility. Ultimately, these are poems of a quiet optimist, even though there are moments when the speaker seems to negate himself, as in “Maybe I’m Not Here at All”.
Falconer’s close, detailed eye aware of the word in which he lives, and equally aware of the possibilities of his craft, reveals for us the metaphorical expanse of the foundling wheel. The foundling wheel is the love between parent and child, the quiet spaces carved out between stanzas, or, as in “Adoption,” it can also be when we are “reaching out to the dark, testing each step, giving into the ground.”