One was Gregory Sherl's new book from Mud Luscious Press, "The Oregon Trail Is The Oregon Trail" an entire collection of poems that explore the timeless dynamics of life and love, through the prism of the dated computer game that some of us grew up with... before you damn kids today,with your Angry Birds and your XBoxesis.
"I love you more than not getting dysentery"
But embellishing its 19th century Pioneer life metaphors with an infusion of pop currency that yields poem titles like
"The Oregon Trail is in my iPhone"
"The Oregon Trail is Pitchfork recommended"
"The Oregon Trail has never seen an episode of Law & Order: SVU"
"The Oregon Trail is Nelly's Band-Aid"
Here's one of my favorites that first appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Sixth Finch.
The Oregon Trail taught me how to love
In my dreams, we always ford the river.
In the wagon, I cover you with blankets
when you sleep. You often dream of ghosts
while I hunt bison wherever bison live.
The ghosts are vegetarian, your heart
is April wind, raindrops the size of half-dollars.
We never hire the Indian guide. Instead,
we keep the five dollars, roll it up, hide
it in my wool sock. You look better in 3D.
I touch your breasts with my fingertips.
Then I touch your breasts with my whole
hand. I swallow the idea of independence,
finding the West before the dirt was soiled
by factories that build heat-seeking missiles,
amusement parks & chain restaurants.
Chimney Rock is underwhelming. I spit
in the cracks of the rock, tiny crevices
that hide who the fuck knows. You are hot
shit & the other carpenters from Ohio
are jealous. They think about your hair
while they’re inside their wives, think about
your dimple while they try to repair the axle
on their wagon. True love is finding wild
fruit. We eat without bibs. By rivers, I sleep
easy, knowing you’re cleaning the clothes nearby.
I also received Kris Bigalk's debut from NYQBooks, "Repeat The Flesh In Numbers"
I like to draw connections between things that "accidentally" intersect in my world, though they had no intention of being connected. So these two books will always be linked in my mailbox and mind. In that light, "Repeat The Flesh In Numbers" feels like the flash-forward follow-up to Sherl's book, checking in with these settlers of the modern world and the daily hardships and decisions that face them in this urban wilderness.
I like collections that aren't afraid to mix it up. Allowing playful poems like "Mr.Spock Always Gets Stuck in Aisle 13 - Cereal and Breakfast Items" or "Dr. Barbie's Abortion Clinic" to break up somber recollections like "The Boy Next Door , Home From Vietnam - 1976" that keep haunting after you've turned the last page. Here's an earlier prose version of one of the poems as it first appeared in a 2009 issue of Bare Root Review:
When I was thirteen, I rode the bus home from school, the bumps jostling my shoulders,
worrying the day's conversations through my head. I had pimples, my dishwater blonde hair was stringy, I didn't own a pair of Calvin Klein jeans like Brooke Shields, and besides, a thick pair of cotton underwear came between me and my Levi's every day. My older sister, smooth-skinned, raven-haired, sat in the back of the bus, let a boy rest his hand on her knee, rolled her eyes if she caught me looking, the boy snickering until my cheeks stained.
When we got home, my sister took the telephone and went to her room, locking the door. I took down the 22 rifle and loaded it with shells, walked out the back door, flicked off the safety, and sighted on the blackbird that perched on the tip-tops of the spruce trees behind our house, the trees that towered between me and the rolling cornfields, the trees that sheltered us from the road, from the round headlights of passing cars, from the wind that blew hard against their branches, turning into whispers.
I set the rifle to my shoulder, fit it into that tender slot between socket and collarbone, squinted my left eye, lined up the ball between the forked sight, then focused
everything on that stupid blackbird's head, and squeezed, slight, slight, until the tension blew back, the hammer threw, and the blackbird dropped through evergreen branches like a stone.