Crownfeathers and Effigies, Jerry Bradley
Lamar University Press
$15.00, 91 pgs
Crownfeathers and Effigies by Jerry Bradley is mostly the opposite of the volume I reviewed for the first day of Poetrypalooza. Mr. Bradley takes our refreshingly sweet mood of yesterday and pokes it full of holes. But I don't mind. The poking is always skillful and frequently sly, the mood leavened with a pleasing black humor at times; this poet is fond of puns ("Bad Coffee is Grounds for Divorce") and interjects an epigram or two for comic relief. A handful of these poems might be considered pastoral but most are elegies to the pastoral vision of love and marriage that we are sold as children - the often impossible resolution of eros and pragma.
Love ruins everything. It jumps
like a creek from its unruly bed,
turns water into rock, and sweeps away
hutch, china, and all their promises
in the wash. Controlled, it dies
like lightning bugs in a jar. - from "This Close"
The essentially inescapable solitariness of the human condition doesn't stop us from attempting connection again and again. We fail to learn from our Sisyphean experience and that is possibly our greatest blessing.
Consider the oddity of love's grammar:
The first person gives way to a familiar second,
Conjugating in time another he or she, an it perhaps,
As even gender may be set aside -
The single lover made plural, two become one.
No wonder we are confused.
Whatever person I speak in,
You are my subject, and, though I object,
No copulative links me to you,
Only to another form of myself.
When I say I love you,
The compliment is resisted,
And no matter how hard I try to verb you,
I end up speaking always in a passive voice.
"Out Here" [THIS is West Texas: spare - and you are pleasantly insignificant out here]
Bo Diddley walked 49 miles of barbed wire,
but out here that wouldn't get you to the next town
or even to the next ranch, and, hell,
if you got there, you'd wish you hadn't,
West Texas no place to be caught afoot.
Out here you can see beyond the horizon,
but who wants to? At Cash-and-Carry Tires
Rodney, skinny as an apple spider, beats his tire tool
on an ungaraged stack of retreads as you pass.
The slapdash ovals might get you just out of sight
but not much farther, their belts of nylon, steel, and carbon
with no more grip than three Jack-and-Cokes at the bar.
LaLa's Mexican brags it has the best food for miles,
and who could argue? But do you really want to find out?
Heat from the roadbed and the stench
of a flattened dog make the letters swim.
A kicked hubcap falls face down, warns not to take the risk.
In fact all the signs remind that you're on your own.
The lone church's message board
asks where you would go if you died.
You know the answer, but what you really want to know
is where you'd go if you coughed up blood?
You swallow hard, choking back vagrant thoughts.
Divine justice isn't the hardest part,
even though you've heard what it intends to do.
A small cloud, like an old Polaroid snapshot,
curls upon itself and darkens overhead.
You don't want to know what might develop.
You don't want to be caught out here - dead or alive -
in a town like this where no one cares where you are.
Out here the out here follows you; you can even hear it
at your heels, its stride quick and insistent.
When it reaches you is anybody's guess,
another mathematical theorem as unresolvable
as who you love, when you became a man,
and where you will spend the uncertain night.
Jerry Bradley is a professor of English at Lamar University, author of six books, and poetry editor of Concho River Review. His work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including New England Review and Southern Humanities Review. Mr. Bradley has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and received many awards, including the Boswell Poetry Prize (1996) and the CCTE British Literature Award (1996).