Michael Cissel

The Cutting Songs of the Butcher Son

Review by Roy Beckemeyer

The Cutting Songs of the Butcher Son CoverIt is a damned shame that Michael Cissel’s first book of poetry, The Cutting Songs of the Butcher Son, was also his last. Cissel’s book was published in July, 2018; he tragically and suddenly died (at the young age of 45) on August 16th. Father to two sons, Cissell’s poems explore the complex relationships of generations back through his grandparents; many focus on his father, who was a butcher. Some of them are in the idiom of working-class Kentuckians of generations past (he grew up in Paducah). These poems are language-and-image-rich, built of blood and bone and sinew. In his three-part paean to his parents (“Flesh and Blood”), Cissell writes:

         “…at eighteen The Butcher met The Butcher Lady
and one a do ron ron ron rockabilly night

         in Wimpy Grill they sashsayed boothward, linked
like Braunschweiger sausage, delicately decorated
as dinner tables (her plump buns a la cha-cha gamboled

         so sweetly beneath her poodle skirt The Butcher’s
loins boiled) and discovered over a few juicy nibble
of Wimpy Grill double bacon cheeseburgers

         their glyphs, their alchemy, their recipes.”

These poems seamlessly bind raw flesh to ethereal heaven: “I love the slap of short loin on my block / …and the red smell of tenderloin and T-bone, two / flesh-woven meats: they are my grace; they are divinity; / they compose the prayer of my day.”

In the brilliant “Meat for Natural Hunger,” Cissell contrasts his life with that of his father:

         “What we have here is The Butcher Son who reads

         An existentialist who deconstructs Christians
as The Butcher separates the hindquarter’s primal
cuts, plunges knife into flesh that can’t bleed.”

         In a quiet and nearly perfect poem dedicated to one of his sons (“Where Light Goes:  for Guthrie Cissell”), we whisper along:

         “To nap in your young son’s bed as he reads
is calming as anything I know. To fall
asleep …

         To breathe him in is to feel that you
don’t have to know how you should feel,
that a world still exists where children

         are free to wake you and ask you
when the sun fondly nods, Papa?”

In an interview in the Butler County Watchdog, Cissell said: “Most of these poems have been private. I’m a little nervous for so many people to read my work.” We are so fortunate that he decided to share it—Michael Cissell’s poetry is work for the ages.

The Cutting Songs of the Butcher Son (viii+54 pp., Spartan Press, Kansas City, MO), is available from Watermark Books. Tributes to Michael Cissell may be found online at: The Sunflower, The Butler Lantern, and the Downing & Lahey website.

Roy Beckemeyer Author PhotoRoy Beckemeyer’s latest poetry collection is Stage Whispers (Meadowlark Books, 2018). Amanuensis Angel (Spartan Press, 2018) comprised ekphrastic poems inspired by depictions of angels in works of modern art. Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014) was a 2015 Kansas Notable Book. He He is co-editor of Konza Journal and is on the editorial board of River City Poetry. Beckemeyer lives in Wichita, Kansas and is a retired engineer and scientific journal editor. His work has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards and was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019.