The Coffin Nail Blues by Ted Pearson

The Border Guards Look Like Wallflowers

by David Ardis

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.
The remainder is equal to itself.

Who sought a life in the world of books
and found one on the shelf. 

While there is a lot of beauty to be found in longer poems, there is a certain charming quality unique to short poems. The Coffin Nail Blues by Ted Pearson is a wonderful embodiment of exactly that. The book doesn’t put effort into being overstated or gaudy; it effortlessly exists as it is and allows the reader to enjoy it. It is simply a collection of short poems, each existing for a moment and then ending without needing to find some extended metaphor to compound on for several pages at a time. The reader can choose to live in these moments or to move on, and there is a loveliness to that.


What really sets The Coffin Nail Blues apart, though, is how the different moments blend into one another. Despite each poem being distinct, there is a subtle connectedness between them that eases the reader through the different scenes of the book. This creates an interesting space for the reader to rest as they read, and it’s very enjoyable to be in. The book as a whole works well toward creating and maintaining this feeling. Allowing the reader to appreciate the poems for what they are, rather than trying to win them over through intricate extended metaphors, means that the book is an easy read, and the fact that there is loveliness even in these short little bursts of poem only makes the read that much more enjoyable. Take the following two poems for example. They appear on facing pages, and follow a similar theme of personifying nature and juxtaposing it against people and looking, however briefly, into how that would play out: 


Dry grasses sway in the desert wind
between revelations of geologic time and

suburban simulacra of its passage


The border guards look like wallflowers.
Someone should ask them to dance. 

Additionally, the book has its own little quirks in the form of brief dips into multilingualism. A number of the poems play with foreign languages and mix words and phrases into otherwise English-language poetry. The result is poems that ask a little more of the reader, but reward the reader for doing so. They may also be subtle nods to people who don’t need translations to understand the meaning, allowing them to share in something that others have to work a little harder to find. Aesthetically, though, this quirk doesn’t distract from the writing at all; in fact, it gives a depth to the works that can only aid the poems seeking to say a lot with little space. 

I remember watching
the dark-eyed wonder’s

dark eyes wander 

il loggione alla Scala.
It is true, then, what they say.

Paradiso é al di sopra. 

The book is very simple, if not outright minimalistic. With such little space, it is important that every word work toward something, and the poet knows this. He has to be very intentional about what each poem does and doesn’t say, and how it says what it says. And though every poem is short, each one feels substantial. The end product flows beautifully through itself and comes to rest satisfyingly at the end with poems that exude finality, both explicitly and implicitly. Without using many words at all, Pearson creates a vast space and allows the reader to quietly float through it, bring them in and keeping them there until the end of the book, where they are gently eased out. 

Bespoke lines grace the commons.
Dichten equals condonnare.

The guard’s approach is measured.
The poet’s last meal: crow.