You don’t do it much anymore, walk into a bar alone. You used to: order a beer and sit lightly, eyes turned in but body half turned out, waiting to maybe make a friend. Instead tonight you’re on the couch, ice-pack over your knees, (damned physio) tucked in with a copy of Sam Ferrante’s “Pick Me Up.”
But spending time with this volume of poetry is like being at that bar again. You hear a voice on the next stool, an intriguing blend of accents. “New York?” you say. “Lawn Guy Land,” the reply. New York to you is the Empire State Building and Broadway, possibly the Sopranos. Your knowledge of North American accents isn’t much more sophisticated. Prepare for an education.
The rest of the night is a both a whirlwind tour and an languorous conversation. The book’s table of contents is titled “Travelogue” and sounds like a poem in itself. How does someone from Long Island end up in Melbourne by way of Buffalo, Seattle, Dublin, Belfast, Paris and audaCity? And what does it all mean?
You get the feeling your traveller companion has never been a tourist. “India House,” for example takes you into secret places only seen by artists, dancers and poets — far from the French Quarter beignets you stuffed your face with.
They smoke in the kitchen
and chug free coffee like
it’s the elixir of life
Even internal landscapes come to vivid life. In “AudaCity”,
Pithy phrases bounce off our surfaces
to shatter the mirrors
of our neighbour’s souls
So we pave our sidewalks with shards.
And external landscapes invade internal experience. From “Short and Tall”:
My mother straightens out
her Great Wall of China spine
The evening smells like a yearning for love and intimacy. You and your knees are not so callow that you confuse the unusual seduction poem for an invitation to a quick slip between the sheets. It’s tempting, I mean:
Let’s leap into
and sloppy, soupy situations
with exception clauses
written in lemon juice
and not a lightbulb in sight
from “Water for bullets”
But you’re pretty sure you’ve walked into the middle of someone else’s very racy dream and the subject is NOT you. The specifics are too specific, but intriguingly sexy:
I’m pretty sure you’d think tracing
Curious George’s bike spokes
with just the tip of my tongue would be weird
but the blue duck is probably good territory
Back away from that flame, friend. Linger instead over the shared longing for a warm, wrinkled, wicked kind of love. The kind that starts with:
This is why people marry themselves
to their first brand of cigarettes.
The kind that leads inevitably to grief and loss and
What was a curse at the onset,
is a blessing at the end.
Instead, pay attention to that education you knew you were going to get from the start. Be respectful: towards women, suffering, the world, yourself. Or be slapped up the side of the head with a sharp call to buck up. Take for example, this bracing piece of advice you’d like to give more than one person in your life:
Embrace the morning,
I’m handing you a proposition, friend.
Just get [preposition] it.
from “The Mis-Education of Boys and Girls”
It’s getting late now, you really ought to go home but you order another drink. “Pick Me Up.” with its quirky illustrations and world spanning, soul diving poetry is the kind of stranger that takes you through to sunrise.