|Jul/Aug 2018 Reviews & Interviews|
Finishing Line Press. 2017. 36 pp.
Jesse Minkert's poems in Eclectica—in 2012 (vol. 16, no. 4) and 2017 (vol. 21, no. 2)—were where I first became familiar with his work, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to spend time with the 24 poems in Rookland.
The initial poem, "Feet in Both Worlds," set the tone for me. The poem focuses on an unnamed queen who is kept awake by "a box of chocolate licorice, two double grande cappuccinos, and visions of tabloid headlines," and as I read through the collection, not only did the figure of the queen "pacing barefoot through the galleries" recur in my mind, but the title of the poem did as well. The idea of having feet in both worlds is one that resonates, and from these poems, the who seems to me to be everyone, not just the queen. The worlds we inhabit are less clear, but I have gathered a few ideas from these poems.
In several instances, Minkert's poems show our inability to perceive another human's motives or inner life, and one possibility for the two worlds was the world of the self and the world of how others perceive that self. The poem where this stood out to me most compellingly was "La Giaconda," and the idea of the unknowable other is clearly present in the title alone. The poem's two central characters are an 11-year-old girl named Greta and an unnamed toddler she happens upon (and whose appearance alone in the poem is never explained). The other character in the poem is Greta's mother—while we never see her, we know that for Greta's birthday, she has "served her low-fat cake and ice cream" and sent her out to take a walk. The poem and its readers know more than any of these three characters: we are told Greta will get older and lose the weight that has her mother so concerned, and as well, we are given a last stanza bringing us to the perspective of the toddler: "He studies her the way a tourist in the Louvre studies the Mona Lisa, unable to blink or look away, desperate to decipher the consequence of what he sees."
And while the people around us are ultimately unknowable, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. In "Soup," two people "could only text each other," and though we don't learn who they are or why their situation has changed, we see what both are sharing with each other, the carefully curated bits of their lives. The woman writes that "she had met some very kind people," and the man "lied to her; he said he got a haircut, was working, eating healthy food, cutting back on beer and cigarettes." The man doubts the woman's words, but keeps his phone close at hand to read her messages. While both may be presenting life as they wish more than as it is, this effort to communicate is an important one, and I feel that this collection would be lessened without this poem.
I looked back through the collection to see if there were more poems with a person alone or more where characters interacted (however obliquely), and there is quite an even assortment. One of the poems where there is a character alone, without other humans even implied, is the unexpected "Her Own Concoction." I say unexpected because of how the poem lulls you to an initial false understanding narrated with fairy tale simplicity. Melanie, whose age we never see but whom I take to be a child, "weaves a few blades of grass into three-winged spinners and ties them onto dandelion stalks with fern-leaf spiders' webs." This is a peaceful image at the start of a very short poem, and not wanting to give it all away, these "murderous gossamer lures tangle on the wings of zebra moths who writhe their last gasps on seats of swings." There is more to the poem, and despite Melanie's pastime being witnessed by no parent or sibling, it is ultimately witnessed by the reader. This poem and the others leaves me wondering whether I ultimately understand these characters, the pacing queen and all the others, or if more about them (and about myself) will be revealed in future visits to Rookland.