Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Brent Goodman's "Wrong Horoscope"

I traded chapbooks with Brent Goodman, and what a good trade it turned out to be for me. I like many poems in Wrong Horoscope, my favorites being “The Walt Whitman Construction Project,” “Garage Sale Answering Machine,” and the title poem.

Quite a number of the poems happen at a real or symbolic road junction. In the opening poem, “Commute,” the speaker approaches the city “through an interchange of horn blast and brake light.” After visiting deep America, with its prairie, thunderheads and birdsong, the speaker returns to Atlantic City “the way blood must return to the mind, in tides/ and intersections, this dull push into the smallest capillary.” If “smallest capillary” gives a sense of diminishment, the Walt Whitman suspension bridge provides the hope of connecting past experience and present home, of maintaining connections with the “living crowd.”

In contrast with the exhilarations of travel, and the heightened moment at an intersection, the house, or home, is usually pictured as temporary or empty or bleak. So, in “Commute,” the speaker’s entire family has taken up residence “in a depression/ -era office building downtown and now roam the gray halls.” For the man suffering from “Amnesia,” “night surrounds the house with its fathoms/ of dark.” His house shattered by looters, the speaker in “Emancipation Day: Negril” can hope for, at most, “a rented cabin.” In “Garage Sale Answering Machine,” the recorded voice is compared to “this haunting smoke/ hanging in the door jambs,” a voice that follows the speaker round the house, “filling [his] hollow cupboards.”

The certain disappointments of home and the uncertain hopes of travel: this tension is exploited most movingly in the title poem. The poem, in the voice of a horoscope writer who has to correct errors made in his predictions, begins comically and then shifts to a much darker key:

Aries, an older person is getting irritated. Act now
or risk promotion. And Leo; sweet, angry Leo, I hope
it’s not too late: the stranger arriving by train,
the one from far away I thought would help manifest
one of your talents, the one I thought might finally
love you—Leo, stay in your car, turn the car around,
steer yourself home; the stars are not right, his intentions
misaligned—deep in his pockets he carried the one
sharp key which will open all the wrong doors.

Brent Goodman blogs at "the brother swimming beneath me."

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