Once, at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains, a four-year-old boy wandered so far into the forest behind his house, his mother called the search-and-rescue. They looked until past dark. Imagining bobcats and rattlesnakes, she cried. I, the boy’s ten-year-old neighbor, peered out the window wondering where the mountains end, if he would take up with a family of bears or meet Christopher Robin, fall off the edge of the Appalachian sublime. Fortunately, rescuers found him, wide-eyed, hungry, tired—a nubile Thoreauvian and potential character in Dan Beachy-Quick’s Wonderful Investigations (Milkweed Editions, 2012), the kind that sets our noses against awe and innocence to become wizened or wise.
In “The Children, The Woods,” the second of the four tales alluded to in the book’s subtitle, a father tells his son the same story every night. It is a story of kidnapping. A baby girl is taken by a stranger from her crib one night. “Why?” the boy asks, wondering what happened to her who might have been his twin sister. “She became a child of the woods,” his father answers. “There are many such children.” Wild.
I haven’t been so delighted by a collection since I read Laura (Riding) Jackson’s Progress of Stories. The reminder is apt, since Beachy-Quick recalls the world she conjures in “A Fairy Tale for Older People.” His tales are populated by a boy who pulls a baby from the sun, another who follows a wolf until he learns its ways, skins it, and wears it to the place where “time begins again,” people who walk on the surface of a koi pond, a man with a prayer rug on his back who runs an 800 forgiveness line.
The whole book might have come this way—in stories rife with philosophic implication. I would have enjoyed that, but it makes of the reader a wonderful investigator to trace a path from “The Hut of Poetry,” where the collection opens, through “a point that flows” into a music box at its close. There is a line and the line is a song. It is the trill of Keats’s nightingale, the hum that captivates the Indweller Thoreau, the “holy pursuit” of poetry in Ovid, memory in Proust, plank-plodding percussionists in Dickinson. The chase of thought after light, voice after hymn, essay after insight. The pitch and drop echoes inside us if we listen, wake to recognize miracle, grow willing to “suffer meaning,” Beachy-Quick says: “It is also a form of wonder.”
The morality tale evidenced here is based less on morals than sense, attention. Still, it is not an easy entrance. The second word of the book is “difficulty,” as in, “The difficulty of being a nature poet is that nature always intervenes.” Of course, nature also rewards in astonishing recompense. It is earned exhilaration to pause at such aphoristic overlooks as: “To think is to water the world” or “The urgency of music is that music must end.”
The eye of the mind is pierced repeatedly by such conceptual vistas. “We are alive,” Beachy-Quick says, “to the degree that we are woundable, and the most basic wound is….that hole, that pupil…which lets light in, and the world, and those words, light reveals.” There is something enchantingly wholesome about this work that seeks greater access to the real through metaphor. One might even believe such investigation could illumine us, ourselves a text to be so thoroughly read.
Amy Wright is the nonfiction editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 Journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks: Farm, There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man, and The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip.