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If You Can Tell, the new book of poems by James McMichael, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2006,takes up what it might mean that the word was in the beginning, before which there may not have been "empty / space, / even, / nor the thought of it." A baby is conceived after a verbal exchange between his parents. He's born and learns to talk. Told that the grandfather he cherishes has died, he unknowingly silences any memory of the man. To his Sunday school class a few years later, he tells the lie that he himself was born in China. The boy grows up into a vexing faith. Though he expects his own death will be final, God is no less God to him in the life he's been given and must in time give back.
James McMichael is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Capacity, a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry. He is a professor at the University of California, Irvine.