One Never Eats Four, by Samantha Duncan

Samantha Duncan. One Never Eats Four. Washingtonville, NY: ELJ Publications, 2014. 40 pages. $14.99, paper.

In the chapbook, One Never Eats Four, Samantha Duncan speaks with a raw intimacy that demands our attention. Though much of her focus is on relationships, these are not typical love poems. “I loved / every moment, every second- / hand smoke you gave // me,” she says in “Memoir,” and we know there’s nothing conventional about this book. At once coy and honest, mysterious and blunt, these poems ring with a dazzling truth, which becomes more apparent with each reading.

Duncan creates tension between the appearance of spontaneity and the discipline obvious in her tight line breaks and well-crafted stanzas. The title poem begins,

How would I discover – in play all along,

an additional functioning part, an erect,

homogeneous switch under my chaptered eyelid?


Would I weave a sweater for my mouth?

Gigabytes of inaugural speech pulses with

red foreheads and quarters govern from


hallway closets, overstuffed pies heat

the groundswell for level tangerine alarm,

under staircases ignorant of their use.

Duncan’s language is often startling, and each line delivers an unexpected jolt of discovery. We feel the push and pull of chaos and control, but the poet’s attention to her craft is always apparent.

Though Duncan is masterful at the unpredictable metaphorical leap, many of her poems display remarkable restraint. One such poem is “Camera,” which I include here in its entirety:

I think of being a wet stone

you’ll step on

for the last time,


it fills me with a

cloud wet I find

on internet forums

for lonely pets.


I typed


into a search engine once.

I typed “accident.”


I mounted a seesaw and typed

“step on a wet stone.”

I clicked “images.”

As with most of us, not all of Duncan’s relationships are with people. In her final poem, “Era,” she speaks of the ocean, which she describes as both a sister and a siren. “She sang / when I didn’t know what / side of the window I was on. // At night when I visited, we sat closer than lovers, as / the wind cooked us.” Duncan continues, “Her salt whispered / through my ducts / not to leave yet.” The ocean shares a tender confidence with the speaker, and we too feel the lure of this bond.

In her essay, “Madness, Rack, and Honey” (published in the book by the same title), Mary Ruefle says, “Metaphor doesn’t actually exist, insofar as it doesn’t reside in nature, but it exists insofar as it spontaneously arises in the human mind as a perpetual event.” This describes well Samantha Duncan’s use of metaphor. Each poem is a small, spontaneous event, and when we reach the final word in this lovely chapbook, we do not wish to leave yet.

More About this Author:

Samantha Duncan is the author of the chapbook, Moon Law (Wild Age Press, 2012), and she serves as Associate Editor for ELJ Publications. She lives in Houston, blogs occasionally at, and can be found @SamSpitsHotFire.


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