Taking a step back to the second poem in the book (I think some of the best are arranged at the beginning of the book for impact), this poem had a mixture of fine, and grating, moments for me. The title is the name of a dish I had not heard of, cross-cut veal shanks, braised with vegeatables, usually on rice. So, the opening lines,
"I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,"
although sonically pleasing, does not seem well suited to the baby calf leg that is the central ingredient. Now, if it had been an old bull, there might be a hint of strength to it. In the same strophe, enter the metaphor--
"And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine."
The privacy/prized combination halted me first time through, as harsh to my ear. Further, not everyone is going to like the marrow best of all, and the entire hunk of meat is pretty much the invaded privacy of the (very young) animal.
The second and third strophes were lovely. The second--
"I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach--
something you don't hear about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in the winter.
-- is Billy at his best, and highlights from the third strophe--
"But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm, heavy paw on my chest...
and the sound of my wife's laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I (am)...
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief's favorite son.
well, I guess the whole strophe was mostly a highlight, after all. I loved the lion's paw (now wouldn't that have been something to describe as a fortress in the middle of a moat of rice-- ditch the veal) the adoration for the woman who pointed to show the butcher, the contrast between the conversation with the faraway friend and the native (maybe even the chief's favorite son) who has a cup of tea as his only needed companion.
The next two strophes are opposing ones, the less fortunate of the world, and then a return to the current comfort at home. Strophe five delivered a slap to the face of logic with "the candles give off their warm glow...the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history." Light lights, other objects which interfere with the light cast shadows.
The final strophe has the couple heading to bed, there is a nice description of falling asleep as sinking into the earth, and then the final couplet forces an unlikely application of the metaphor down my throat--
"into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know."
Granted, the collection focuses on our struggle to accept mortality, I'm not buying that we find the marrow of anything by taking a snooze. As for death, how much do we become more one with the intimate parts of the earth at that point? Six feet down barely scratches the surface, let alone the marrow. In the spiritual sense, going down at the point of death has generally negative overtones to most faiths the world over. And that's about it, dear reader.