Book Review: Kekekabic by Eric Chandler
A Latin phrase comes to mind, curriculum vitae. Many of us have seen the phrase before, like a flock of birds on the beach or a grove of trees along a trail, but just like the common scenes from nature that we overlook, we’ve failed to notice what the Latin words really mean.
Eric Chandler reminds us.
In his collection of journal entries and poetry, titled Kekekabic (after a trail that appears prominently in the book), the author describes scenes from “the course of one’s life.” This is both the literal translation of curriculum vitae and one theme from the collection of poetry. Fortunately, though, what you find in these pages, however, are not what you’d find in one’s cv.
He emailed me a preview copy one gray December morning. It was a bad day at work. It felt like a large man was sitting on my chest. The events of the day found myself shifting in my chair, expanding my diaphragm, trying to take in a deep breath, trying to breathe out the stress. It was just like I was waiting for morning during a long cold night, something he describes poignantly.
The opening poems were like a breath of cold fresh air, and I could almost see the vapor leaving my mouth and escaping into the dry air. They evoked feelings of the cold north, of snow, of winter.
Not every scene is from the darker months at both ends of the year nor from his home state of Minnesota. His prose captures observations I have made a hundred times but without words. He gives form to those moments I’ve experienced as a momentary pause, when the eye stops moving across the landscape and rests for a moment on what it has found. He finds words for the experience of a sensation, and the words remind me of the same joy that the sensation did.
He sees something beautiful, and he sees it again. And in the second sight of it, he sees something more sophisticated.
As I read, I get the sense that Chandler ran in the first half of his life, that he hiked and skied then too, activities which appear prominently in each page. But I also believe it is precisely because of his earlier experiences that the second half is so much richer. This book documents a journey which is his second mountain (a phrase I borrowed from David Brooks), and he draws significance from things that retain their significance much longer than another promotion, accolade, or pay raise. His words are blazes on a trail that some lonely hiker may wander along in this life. His phrases are the sounds we hear when the fatigue of the climb gives way to the joy of the summit. What he accomplishes in this collection is to turn a sweaty grimace into a familiar smile — just as it happened to him one day, when someone recognized his favorite running shirt.
I never got used to the simple way he labels each page, poem, journal entry, but that is too small a thing to discredit this work. I knew Chandler from his earlier work, and the early pages of this book whet my appetite for more aviation stories (something he does quite well in the earlier work). Instead he chose to show us the world away from airports and airplanes.
He also left me hanging near the end, wanting more of the story about Grace and her first time skiing. There are only a few moments in this collection where his family members appear, and I think it would have been much more satisfying — for me at least — had he included more. Even as I write those last four words though, I picture Chandler standing next to a child or his wife, looking out at the world, and it makes sense why he does not paint them into the picture.
The author spends the first few pages describing the form, haibun, something I was not familiar with, “with its combination of prose and haiku.” This was both helpful and interesting. He compares the course of his own life to that of an ancient Japanese poet. At the end of Chandler’s journey, the similarities surprise him.
So too will the common sights surprise us, the things he sees and brings to life, the memories he captures for another day, and the simplicity of the words he uses to capture the complexity of this beautiful world.
The book hasn’t been published yet, but preorders will be available in early 2022. I recommend following along here on twitter. I don’t know what it will cost, but I’m certain it will be more valuable than the souvenir you picked up in Salt Lake City on your last trip. Instead, think of it like the photo album you made after that summer vacation, and pick up a copy to savor the next time the day is cold and gray.