The Pedestal Magazine:
Reviewer: Emilia Fuentes Grant
Feasting at the Table of the Damned is a candid, passionate offering from Detroit-based poet Daniel Ames. In these poems we are asked to contemplate faith and pleasure, good and evil, and the qualities of our humanity.
Ames chooses for his epilogue a line from the Poet-King Solomon, a man whose penchant for pleasure was matched only by his desire for wisdom. Ames uses the second line from the following verse:
My heart became hot within me.
As I mused the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue.
(Psalm 39:3, Holy Bible, N.I.V.)
This is a poetry collection which certainly burns with convictions and observations; Ames is a poet who speaks incendiary truths in vivid, concise language. He is also bold and unapologetic, asserting, early on, that imperfection is part of the plan. Consider these lines from the opening poem, “Bearings”:
they said, you’re losing it
they said, you’re blind
out of touch
lost in a world filled with art and noise
…you will die young and unhappy
no, I counter
I’m just getting my bearings
Ames is not ashamed of his struggle. He is unperturbed by the opinions of “they,” the others.
This is a book populated by imperfect people and places. It’s a decidedly agnostic work, neither denying nor affirming the existence of a god (or gods).
when they handed out gods
I was at the back of the line
unable to see what was happening up front
I figured by the time I got there
all the good ones would be gone
I had #672 and they were calling out #11…
An absurd scenario: all humankind waiting in line for a god. All faith doled out in slow motion by bureaucrats. However, the truth in Ames’s words resonates far beyond the construct of the poem.
When it comes to faith and religion, we are essentially unable to see what’s “happening up front.” We are asked to believe that when our number is called (so to speak), our patience and obedience will be rewarded—that our god will be a good one.
…they were handing out the shitty ones
the gods that weren’t even trying anymore
so I left and tossed my number to the ground
in the parking lot
scraping the bottom of the celestial barrel
a homeless guy picked it up and ran inside
“Gods Numbered” seems at first a harsh critique of religion and of the pious, but in the end the poet is the real subject of scrutiny. Notice the punctuation of the final line: an exclamation mark, indicating excitement and joy in an otherwise indifferent poem. But that joy belongs to the homeless man. Ames leaves the reader to contemplate which is better—to wait in line with blind faith, or to turn away, give it all up, and live life without a god.
Neither the poet nor the homeless man can be said, without hesitation, to have made the right choice. The poet turns away from the secondhand gods. He is unchanged. Alone. The homeless man is happy. He believes he has found salvation. Neither man can know for sure. This poem is a thought-provoking allegory of agnosticism. Ames, neither affirming nor denouncing faith, raises stirring questions for believers and non-believers alike.
Ames has a gift for showing both sides of an issue, for painting the world neither black nor white but rather various shades of grey. This displays courtesy, a certain confidence in his readers, that they might exercise their minds to arrive at their own conclusions.
The poems delight in traditionally sinful things: sex, pleasure-seeking, drugs. This is, after all, a feast for the damned. However, using the first-person point of view, Ames also delves into other, very dark places:
…but I can hear the screams coming
from Bunce Island
where the gray hairs are plucked to fool the buyer
let’s sit in our mansion south of broad street
and haggle over the women too young to fuck
you inhale the sweetly succulent flesh of the tobacco
crushed by feet unnaturally white
let’s send a cannonball toward the wide open harbor
and let them know
we mean business
Ames dares to adopt the voices of slave owners, villains of American, and more specifically, Southern history. Rather than simply describing the men, Ames becomes them, injecting validity and humanity into their words. The result is a frightening reproduction of evil.
The authenticity in the poet’s words gives these characters their power. His subjects are ugly, disturbing, and painfully real.
the smile on the street
the lips that part
freshly brushed teeth
are buried by sunset
in the dark flesh
of sin and sweat
a feast of young
and unknowing flesh
hidden from the neighbors…
Ames descends deeper still into the recesses of our society, representing what he finds there with the utmost sincerity and startling accuracy. The result is a clearer picture of those who feast at the table of the damned. In this book, as in a painting, as in life, darkness is the inevitable companion to light.
what is he doing here?
his head is monstrous
a blood splatter
among the renaissance masterpieces
…a necessary evil
says the lark
in the serviceberry
This book celebrates the necessary evils. With deft, sparse language Ames presents passion and love alongside violence and fear. Feasting at the Table of the Damned is a provocative book of poetry, beautiful as it is unsettling. And it’s not without hope.
…these birds are royalty
regal in their cloaks of despair
reminders that even surrounded
by the destruction of our past selves
something good can survive
and stand out
tiny explosions of color
a burgeoning colony
(“The Pheasant of Detroit”)
In this, his first book of poetry, Daniel Ames offers a startling view of the world. Beauty and destruction come hand in hand, darkness clarifies the light, and the damned impart lessons of life.