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Wednesday Shout Out
“The eye will feed itself a myth,” writes James Hoch in this unsettling yet gorgeous second collection of poems that explores the darker stories of art, literature, and the grating newspaper headlines that stop the reader’s breath. And then there is the underbelly of the more familiar happenings, like planting a tree outside a hospital, crossing a nondescript bridge by car, and attending the high school prom:
Morning After the Prom
There was scrapple in the air
wafting out of Dempsey’s Diner,
an uneasy quiet, part relief
part worry; even the crows
gossiping on the wires looked
fairly anxious, unnerved.
There was scrapple in the air.
There were corsages in the river
ebbing against the mill bridge,
a fabrication of things pale:
pink and white, ribboned in blue.
Perverted lotuses, soap opera
lilies, perfumed, starch-stiff
as shirt cuffs, and tied too
elaborately to break apart,
they floated and sank on
their own time. You can imagine
how the girls felt, slipping them
off their wrists, flinging
them into the water. You can
imagine their wrists, months
working a string of shit jobs
for a limo, a suite at The Oasis,
corsages in Kenmac’s window,
and that moment, rehearsed
so well, even the music, the slow
grind of a heavy metal ballad,
how could the boys not
tremble a little, holding out
the flowers, so much going
away, so much coming on,
something they could talk about
the rest of their lives.
As a rite of passage, this is a loaded one: it signals a clear transition from childhood to adulthood as high school seniors (many on the cusp of tuning eighteen) prepare to venture on their own. Some have options and opportunities, and a life change is possible; but for others, there are limitations (educational, financial and otherwise) and the paths they take might not take them far. The point is that the anxiety and uncertainty of the rest of that year (of the rest of one’s life) will remain suspended at least for that one night. But in this poem Hoch takes a reality-check: this is the morning after, when the detritus of fantasy and frivolity, of hyperbole, vitriol and impulsive pronouncements, rises to the surface as little more than artifice, “a fabrication of things pale.”
Cast into the storehouse of memory, the high school prom will be revisited by some as a highlight of their youth; others will lessen its importance as they participate in more meaningful ceremonies. The common ground is that this climactic moment eventually dies, withering into the past like those tell-tale corsages once in full bloom, vibrant and alive.
There are many windows, literal and metaphorical, in Hoch’s Miscreants: the reader is invited to look inside, though be warned that even windows are dangerous. And so is sight.
At the center of this book is the long poem “Bobby Almand,” an account of the rape and murder of a young boy committed by a pedophile, a drifter who chose his victim after a chance encounter. The narrative, steadily paced and ominous, unfolds through many points of view: the predator’s, the prey’s, the childhood friend’s, and the grown-up childhood friend’s as he’s lying next to his pregnant wife wondering about this world where “children disappeared down holes.”
Hoch gives us much to consider in this startling collection. It’s not as bleak as I’ve made it sound here, but it certainly is compelling.
(From Miscreants, published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. Used with the permission of the author.)