As always, Lux plants these metaphysical landmines in poems so conversational that you go laughing into the maw. Though he claims recovery from surrealism, The Cradle Place reads like the work of a man trying to keep things tangible after falling off the weirdness wagon. The result is a book full of arresting images that actually mean something. In "The Devil's Beef Tub," the poet contemplates the banality of evil:
Every day is like this,
is a metaphor or a simile: like opening a can
of alphabet soup
and seeing but X's, no, look
closer: little noodle
Don't let the pretty red cover fool you. Yes, there's a morbid cast to this book that grows woollier as it continues. "Hospitality and Revenge" turns a domestic shooting into burlesque. "Monkey Butter" evokes the slimy image of using monkey fluids for dinners, pastries and treats.
With its short lines and occasional lyricism, The Cradle Place pulls a fast one on readers betting that a poet who renounced surrealism has also set aside rupture. The natural world, as it appears here, first looks lovely -- the opening poem traces a leaf's descent -- but turns out dangerous, poisonous and eventually conquered.
In the final poem, the poet imagines boiling a horse down to its juices, "which you smear on your lips / and go forth / to plant as many kisses upon the world / as the world can bear!" Not since Plath has hysteria looked this kissable.
The Cradle Place by Thomas Lux. Houghton Mifflin. $22. 80 pages.