by Betty O’Hearn
One Man’s Profit
Robert S. King
Reading Robert S. King’s One Man’s Profit was my first exposure to his work, and I was drawn to it from the moment I sat down and opened the book. King’s portfolio of work began in the early 1970’s and it suggests a writer who has looked not only into the world, but also into his own soul.
This book written at the end of a career in the private sector, while stepping down an active career as editor of FutureCycle Press can be viewed to some degree as a poetic autobiography. Many of these poems were pulled from King’s past work and make a statement of his life. King is a brilliant man with a very eclectic palate of work that comes alive to reach the soul of another writer. I connected in many lines and my life seems to mirror his views in several poems.
One Man’s Profit is divided into “Empires,” “From the Heights,” “Long Roots,” “Social Security,” “Migrating Shadows,” and “Profits.”
In the “Empire” section, King touches on former world orders, which contributed to so many sciences and technologies in our own present history and have touched him on a personal level as well. These poems pay a sort of homage to these great past civilizations. A sentence from each stanza of the poem “Empire” illustrates:
The pyramids are still falling..
Mayan temple stones sewn together with weeds
Greece taught Rome how to fall forever
The blood of the cracks of great stones never dries, never seals the wounds
Imagery and flow are so well demonstrated in this poem. I was drawn to my own experiences studying these pasts. Noted in the Pharaoh’s Night Light:
In the heart of the boy king’s tomb and in the hearts of intruders is a light burning 3000 years.
Written about King Tutankhamen, the words propel the reader into ancient Egypt and all this country brought to the table as it played into early Bible days as the imprisonment of thousands of Jews for hundreds of years, to the romance of Anthony and Cleopatra, a love story that never dies. King tells in 20 well-stated lines, a rich history that has coherence and relevance.
The “Heights” segment features poems that attend to ideas from the highest ground, as in “The Language of Trees,” a strong piece that talks about communication among this species of life that waves to us or perhaps have their own sign language.
Only felling shows us the history of trees.
Their long lives grow in widening circles,
in seasons telling their stories in a tongue
we partly understand.
King’s connection to nature and what is directly in front of or behind him is astounding as his poems remind readers of questions they have thought about, such as the relation of one tree to the next: “does one cry to another as it falls?” His articulation is astounding.
“Long Roots” covers some of King’s personal history. He has had a full life and with recent stepping down it appears he is soaring to his later chapters like we all think about.
Our family is part of who we are, and in “Grandmother”, King illustrates his troubled relationship with the matriarch as he was the bookworm and did not appear to have the same love of the land as his cousins.
We grew from the same soil if not the same spirit.
Your seed is firmly planted here, but mine is in the wind.
The writer does not apologize for his difference, but recognizes he is different and his thoughts and love go beyond the family farm. There is strength in these words showing that he did not back down during life.
The “Social Security” section combines poems from King’s personal life with a few that touch on his career. “Worker’s Compensation” was one I particularly enjoyed as it took the reader from the beginning of a work day through the issues we have all experienced in trying to fit into an office culture.
In my office suite, all the phones winked on hold. The water cooler
Had a cork and a long line. White collars loosened their Windsor nooses,
and lipstick wrote happy faces everywhere.
King’s well-crafted prosody takes readers into the office and the imagery put them into a large room of cubbies and all the mundane boring characteristics of working a 9-5 job. Personally, it was crystal clear to me and I could even hear phones ringing.
Winding down to “Migrating Shadows,” King is preparing himself to leave a career and start a new session of life. There is a line I fell in love with that kind of mirrored my own life. A road never leaves the past but already touches tomorrow.
King writes about life and brings the pain, sorrow and challenges into electrified pages that you will want to read and re-read as you will identify segments in the life of this speaker experienced by someone you don’t know that you can so easily relate to.
One Man’s Profit is a volume of breathing poems you will want to have in your collection. Robert S. King shares his life with us in a way that makes it possible to better understand and stay in touch with your own past.