“It takes calm to live a life on the edge”

My copy of Said No One Ever by Gregory Crosby is well loved with notes in nearly every margin, including full poetic responses, most loosely connected and responsive to the text. Generally, this is an act of love and goes unshared, but I wrote the author and shared a few of them. As the politest friend I have, he wrote back and corrected every assumption I’d made about the collection. There’s something beautiful about knowing a person and getting your entire read wrong, but still loving the collection. Rather than explain anything, here is a love note to five of these poems.

My title comes from the poem Old Man, How is it That You Hear These Things? and every nerdy fiber of my being connects with the visual references to literature and cinema. Full disclosure, I met Gregory in a Shakespearean History graduate school course. This matters because of the Shakespeare reference and it is maybe one of the nerdiest starts to a friendship. Over the years we’ve been colleagues, friends, pen pals, neighbors, I’ve been his dog-sitter and he’s been my tour guide to sections of The Met. It is an astonishingly loving friendship that has been a constant. Meeting someone always overdressed as a person occasionally overdressed (think suits and glittery gowns in class), it was obvious we were going to be friends.

I am opening this review with nostalgia because it is a pandemic and it is how I connect with the outside world without enough direct contact.

Master, what we have learned: you cannot kill
that Bride, eternal yin to briefest yang. Rest,

grasshopper. Rest.

Once, I had a friend sleep over on my living room floor while we watched Kill Bill Vol I. We always meant to watch Vol II together, but the circumstances never re-manifest. We had been drinking and rather than let her drive home drunk, I stood barefoot in the middle of the Seattle streets to help her park and guide her to safety and pulled out sleeping bags for a slumber party. Both of our spouses decided we were having an affair and it has forever painted this act of love as a tinge uncomfortable and strange, but no less loving. Sometimes I remember we all live a little different, like David Carradine and it is not always taken the way we hope.

Sea Change inspired an entire response in the margins on the nature of toddlers and death. I won’t bore you with my thoughts, but instead I’ll offer my favorite stanza:

It is imperative
to always be as drunk
as a six-year-old
on the forgiving floor
of the Glass Bottom Boat

There’s no death here, only fascination with life. Whatever I brought to this poem, my love of the raw fascination children bring to new situations carried me through to a place where I could forget my own jaded cynicism. That this poem ends with “now drown/your eyes” makes me suspect I’m not the only cynic watching in fascination, but alas, I know that the lens through which I read this poem was like the murky, muddy waters of the midwest where these boats are comical.

The Wolf Man speaks to the darker parts of my heart walking alone on Brooklyn streets in the middle of the night, taking photos to share with an older friend. It’s my reminder that even the things that terrify us define who were are. These couplets are no different – evoking the imagery of torture, the maps of vigilantes as they hunt the wolf man at night because by day he is someone else and even a prayer instead of a howl as there may be no moon.

Every story is blind, you may depend upon it,
& reinvents the wheel just to break you on it.

Every curse is read in the map of a hand;
every victim wears your star & your brand…

& even a man — especially a man — who is
corrupt of heart, & who says his prayers

to the night, has no need of an autumn
moon. He is the way; he is the light.”

Still, I’ve been rewatching Buffy The Vampire Slayer and just finished the episode where Oz discovered he could stop himself from changing with every moon only to learn his emotional responses trigger something beyond his control. Every dark prayer has an answer and there is light in what we learn, even as we keep being broken by the answers.

I love that Isn’t It Good feels like a waking dream sandwiched in a double entendre of unreality. As though the author is focusing on maintaining a consistent, loose grip on a moment that may or may not have been real. As though subtle shifts in tone guide us through a fog to our narrator and scene.

Strange to slowly wake
with & in a mourning wood,
aroused, stiff
with sleep & wonder
at the fantasy
you did not direct.

You are not an actor.
You would decline
any role I offered.
You are not here.

I can still see
your face, farawayclose;
your eyes, open & closed;
your astonished kiss.

Appropriately, I’m ending with David Bowie. For once I didn’t use lyrics as the post title, but a full poem response to a Bowie album makes me feel better about this choice. In Double Album, we have Side One and Side Two as couplets, but I’ve had enough of referencing couplets for one post. Side Four is all NYC and maybe I should focus on it, but, for whatever reason, my block on writing my city is still too strong, so I’m staying in bed with that dreamlike state in Side Three. I’m just going to add the poem here without comment because no one needs to hear me rant about god anymore in 2021.

When was the last time, on an unmade bed,
unmoving, listening to a record
with windows shuttered & eyes shuttered,
you heard the voice of your existence,
echo that refuses to return,
galaxy that toils & spins inside
the web of dark matter that sees itself
& recognizes itself but without

knowledge, without hope or even despair?
The last song ends & you open your eyes
as if God will be sitting there: legs crossed,
turning the pages of a magazine,
smoking a cigarette, neither bored nor
interested, listening to an emptied air.

And with that, I’m strongly recommending Gregory’s second collection of poetry. I’m not recommending it because he’s a friend or because I perfectly understood every nuance. I read this in a fugue state on the road and completely misinterpreted everything based on my own situation. Even so, I’ve been reading the collection out loud to my cat now that my brain is clearer and I am still completely charmed.

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