All Small Planes by Eric Roy. Whitman, Massachusetts: Lily Poetry Review, 2021. 19 pages. $12.00, paperback.
Eric Roy begins All Small Planes with a statistic: 72,000 opioid deaths in America in 2017, which comes to 197 daily deaths, an death toll equivalent to a 737 jet fatally crashing every single day. But Roy’s collection doesn’t toss around rates as abstract signifiers of widespread tragedy; All Small Planes invites the opioid crisis into your living room, following the narrator/speaker’s brother—nicknamed Small Plane after a childhood shoplifting incident—as he bums cigarettes to his daughter at an airshow, exemplifies the Irish goodbye before a party’s end, and crashes on the speaker’s couch. After all, “you get the feeling at any moment / he could fall apart mid-flight. So, if not your couch / then crash where? A suburban lawn? Golf Course? / Mother’s aging mall? The Pentagon’s garage?”
Unfolding in just fifteen poems at one page apiece, All Small Planes tells a full story of nostalgia and grief while leaving much unsaid. Roy lets this brevity and quiet speak for itself, much like Small Plane and his daughter “finally having a decent conversation / but in the form of quickly fading black redacted clouds” as they smoke together in silence while the airshow rushes overhead. Though conversational at first glance, Roy fills these poems with moments of sonic delight, gorgeous observation, and striking figurations of landscape: “upside-down, / blue sky below no lake or ocean, the straight arm of horizon / beckoning his descent as he spirals for control.”
Landing, crashing, taking off or being jumped from, Small Plane brings color and life to the statistic which begins the book. Whether or not we understand, beyond the numbers, just how widespread the opioid epidemic is, Roy’s work reminds us what these losses look like on a human level, at the scale of daily life. Every day, this crisis touches more and more lives; All Small Planes is a collection both for those whose homes have only ever been brushed by graphs and data on a tv screen, as well as for those whose friends and family—their stories, dreams, obsessions, and nicknames—have been lost in the numbers.
-Samuel Burt, MAR