Book Review: Attention and Pilgrimage in Damon Falke’s By Way of Passing

Damon Falke is the author of Broken Cycles and two plays produced by Square Top Repertory Theatre, including The Sun is in the West and Canaan.  He lives in Texas. (from his website, here:

Author, playwright, and poet Damon Falke’s new novella By Way of Passing, coming in August 2013, enchants with striking beauty and meditative silence. Through sensual details such as “the stove ticking… the smell of hay and feed and blankets… of leather and mink oil,” Falke looks and listens for what distinguishes one place and one life from another. His focus on small details makes one forget that he reads rather than rides and works beside hunting guide Jim Winters in the snow-covered countryside. As Jim contemplates his daily rituals such as fixing pack animals’ panniers and cleaning tack, his attention yields “memories of a land and a youth,” as he continues on through the winter of his life.

Falke conveys an incredible awareness of winter’s presence, its threats, and simultaneously its gift of incredible beauty. He sets apart each mountainside, each twig, each snowfall mentioned as a character in itself, precious in its own right to Jim simply for existence; nearly all the verbs in the novella are active ones, nature acting as much as Jim and his fourteen-year-old trainee Ray. Jim reflects that ultimately “Nothing…can be saved” in himself or in the land as he begins to face the effects and questions of age and as Ray faces the loss of his dog Belle. The world decays, and life passes. Yet at the same time the earth and sky announce themselves, the mountainsides share echoes, and Jim holds his breath in wonder when he sees “the peak, jutting upwards towards an opening where a pallet of the brightest stars shone like gifts.” With beautiful, long sentences Falke shows us a world “hemmed now into dying hands,” and at the same time he invites us to see both beauty and threat in equal measure, neither good nor bad but simply extant.

Each of the four perspectives in the novella – Jim, Ray, Ray’s dog Belle, and the bull elk – lose something by way of passing through this vivid winter countryside, yet all continue on. Falke compares movement through it to the silent march of “a holy order moving toward the altar of an unknown god or gods.” Falke suggests that each life is a pilgrimage toward an undefined, unseen something, toward “some other not quite known world” and “the peaks still invisible.” While mysterious, Falke assures us through puns on the religious and through connotations that, like the present seen world, the beauty and threat of that unseen life are simply extant, independent of our perceptions of “good” and “bad.” Falke writes on his website that “that’s a fascinating part of who we are, the fact that we just go on.” In the novella each character does just that after the losses they experience.

The novella ends with a prayer and a silence. Jim waits in silence in his own “someplace familiar to rest” after uttering what he feels to be an insufficient prayer. Falke chooses not to tell us if the prayer is answered, leaving us looking and listening for something after the losses we have encountered. For Falke, this looking and listening in meditative silence seems to sanctify the world around us, enabling us to continue on.


Other works by Damon Falke:

Notes on Paper: A Poem. Damon Falke with Laura Mae Jackson, Illus. Anchorage, AK: Shechem Press, 2012.
(Reviewed here by James Rovira:

The Sun is in the West: A Play by Damon Falke. Damon Falke. Tyler, TX: Shechem Press, 2010.

Broken Cycles: A Collaboration. Damon Falke, poems, and Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton, photographs. Tyler, TX: Shechem Press, 2007.

Check out his website:

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