On Monday night, November 1, I went to KGB to hear some poetry. Jonathan Wells was the featured reader. I didn’t know his work (there is a lot I don’t know) so when he got to the microphone, I was ready to listen with interest. He was reading from his new book, Debris, he told us. “That’s a good title,” I thought to myself.
In the deep red glow of the room the poet’s words took hold of the crowd who followed along and began to applaud at the end of every poem. We live in apocalyptic times. In “Notes From the Invasion” he reminded us: We’ve surrendered our papers to the sad-faced lieutenant. Now we are abandoned to our bodies and the thin shellac of rain on the pavement. The protests will begin later or never. The chants will bounce off the facades of empty buildings. Scaffolds will rattle on their stanchions. There is no light, but a shadow in the hallway. The beggar’s hand was a closed fist until it was hungry. There is nothing to imagine. The worst has happened and the streets are slick.
Another poem “Chelsea Bomber” had similar sentiments, but there began to be, though it was sunset and not sunrise, some sensual light : The city grid was rotated 29 degrees so the sun nestled in the cleavage of buildings at the end of 23rd Street. This passage, the last section of the poem, goes on, continues with light, the vision of a city, a street that goes from river to river. The worst has happened but at least we can see.
There is love-making too and lines that soothe and connect striking images and inner rhymes with eyes and ears. In the penultimate poem, “How Did I Love Myself Again?” there is promise, assurance, or hope at least in the forgiving giving in of loving one’s self, a gentle catharsis. This is important because everything begins with us: The porch greeted me without hailstones. Broken leaves cascaded from the beams. I was hatless and they mixed in my hair like herbs. I lowered my sweet infected head and the current rushed over me like luck, like a breeze from nowhere.
When Jonathan Wells was finished and I got up to leave, the poet Sarah Sarai sitting at the bar smiled at me happily saying, “Wow, that was good.” “That was fucking good,” another voice agreed as I got closer to the door, hearing in the conversations at the dark tables, exponentially, like applause, appreciation beginning to grow. You can hear for yourself in the Vimeo below. Enjoy.
Debris is published by Four Way Books. You can check it out here:
After the storm I picked up sticks
doing what my father did
on Saturdays. I heaped them
in a shaky pile that teetered
and began to slip, kindling
for a fire to warm the afternoon.
When he’d asked me to come with him
I’d refused but watched him stoop
from the warm side of the window.
The bundle grew under his arm
as he crossed the lawn carrying
load after load to the lower
ground where he let me strike
the match in spite of my recusal.