No Soap, Radio! Bruce Cohen. Black Lawrence Press. Pittsburgh, PA. 2015.
"In this life you are only a tourist and your camera is disposable." - Bruce Cohen
Today's book of poetry might just have a new favourite poet. Bruce Cohen's No Soap, Radio! is a freakishly big lighthouse in the dark while the rest of us are using candles. It's not that Cohen is shining his light on happy news and golden horizons, quite the opposite. No Soap, Radio! is beautifully grim.
Everything happens in these big, big poems. Cohen rolls out line after line that will take you to your knees, and he does it non-stop.
Take a deep breath before you read this:
After the opening credits, peasants are lugging their ship over mossy alien terrain.
All I'm saying is there are "circumstances" where people chip in, disassemble their
Mobility & carry it, piece by piece, to a more welcoming landscape.
Sometimes you flip on the car radio & the song you were unconsciously singing
Is actually playing; sometimes a person who you haven't considered since high school
Randomly impregnates your daydream then saunters into your favorite watering hole.
No! It only looks exactly like her, which is quadruple-freaky with a cherry on top.
I hardly half-know people I know. Half-people are the most complete though.
All I'm saying is who doesn't have metaphorical barbed wire encompassing his secret
Playground? In city congestion the honking seems arbitrary -- though directed
At some unknown target. I hardly know my address without
Checking the yellow pages; I lean on that phone book to preserve autumn, not just
To flatten the magnificent colored leaves. I review the expiration date on a can of split
Pea soup before I use it to prop up the sofa after the weakest leg collapses. All I'm
Saying is some stuff has multiple purposes to the creative mind. One human being
Can be an object of love or blame depending. Numerically, one through ten is not
Adequate; we should have extra digits, flexible numbers, spare pliable days, secret hands.
People in our lives who don't fall neatly into categories, & X-ray sunglasses.
Shouldn't we all pocket at least one saintly friend whose name we never learn?
All I'm saying is we're too obsessed with terminology & order. You see large household
Appliances or sawed-in-half sofas on the highways but never the culprits. Darling,
I think I would like to dump this malfunctioning washing machine off the next overpass.
All I'm saying is I'm really trying, but I'm not sure there's meaning to life
Except to make each other feel okay at times, with unsolicited utterances that may not
Have any loyalty to the truth, but are untucked-shirt-drunk with kindness,
Which is all I'm really saying. We're all extremely depleted & human poverty makes us
Immobile not less mobile, huddled in jungles not exactly jungles per se, trees leafless &
The car skeleton tireless with no windshield but windshield wipers intact.
We all stash photographs in our wallets that are decades from the tender.
I feel odd when I see a neighbor kid driving his parents' luxury car for the first time.
All I'm saying is sleeves nicely camouflage food stains, autumn foliage has cowardly
Tendencies, half-people have mirror-issues & re-wear underwear they take out
Of their hampers & waiters nibble sent-back desserts. Unfinished entrees into eternity.
All I'm saying is life is heart-wrenching enough without making it worse.
We need to scrape barnacles off the underside before the ship is seaworthy again.
Because I'm sick of my music I'm not sure what song I want played at my funeral.
All I mean is I change my mind maybe too much. If God is so clever how come--
How come time travels more slowly than our lives?
Impure forgiveness is like some nasty metallic sugar substitute, the aftertaste.
Where is the actual sweetness? Cars run out of fuel yet we don't junk them
& buy a new jalopy. It ain't perfect is all I guess I'm saying
But there are perfect moments. I want to be unquestionably loved; that puts me
Out there, doesn't it? Doesn't it? I have no qualms about ripping open my favorite
Shirt & inviting, begging, daring the world to stab me as though I were some
Delusional Superman. How come time does travel more slowly than our lives?
This morning's read was simply manic. Everyone was deep-snow-happy. We've had at least eight inches of snow in the last couple of hours and it is still coming down as though it meant it. The whole city looks like a bowl of vanilla ice-cream. It makes people silly-happy as it slows down the world. And that must be just the right mood for reading No Soap, Radio! because Milo brought the house down, he was operatic and howling.
Kathryn, our new intern, went the other way with her reading, quiet and slowed right down to a crawl. It was like she haunted the room with the quirky sermons of a drunken priest full of wisdom and spite.
Everyone loved these poems. They made us feel small in a vast world and then Cohen would say something that made us know he had not given up.
My old man knew I always loved music so he pinched a stereo
That "fell off a truck" that dinged all my original recordings,
Made them skip, even though I replaced the diamond needle
& weighted the crooked arm with Scotch Tape & Indian pennies.
When he left for his extended stay in heaven without life
Insurance it was clear the concept of angels was a misconception.
God's associates were more akin to Insurance Claims-Adjusters
Screwing you out of your life's fondest moments. It ain't
Like there's a shortage of things anyone prays would turn out
Differently. At the reunion the cheerleader who doesn't show
Is the girl who bludgeoned her parents with unused garden tools--
No one is surprised by the late arriving transvestite who
You could just tell even then. There are a hundred types
Of forgetfulness wedged between I can't find my car keys
& who am I! I'm at the age where I shouldn't have too many
Individual regrets, when my life is record-skipping into one
Massive regret. Each evening I overfull my whisky glass above
The imaginary line. You are afforded only so many opportunities
To adjust your life--most of us ignore them, zipper our parkas
& trudge head down into the bitter wind, high-stepping
Unpredictable precipitation. You look around--no wonder
Gods a haunted insomniac. You have to admit people were
A very fancy idea. The girl who murdered her parents, when
She comes up for parole, is just an abstraction her sisters nix.
The mixed bouquets, after a few days, regret their involuntary
Violent departure from the cultivated soil though they've earned
Journeyman status at the slow art of decay. Despite my bitter
Intuition, I've been a lazy, angry, irresponsible father, a horrible
Example, pounding the coffee table, threatening what I didn't
Even mean, nicking the mahogany with my father's wedding ring.
Cohen takes on all the big subjects, finds a perspective that whittles them into Cohen-reason. Take Tom Waits, Will Rogers, Ron Koertge, St. Raymond of Carver and the inebriated ghost of a plucky Anne Sexton and swirl them around your head for a bit. Today's book of poetry is convinced these dandies and dozens more have taken up residence in the noggin of Bruce Cohen. How else could he spew such splendid poetry like whim. Every page of No Soap, Radio! is a different and exhilarating slap in the face.
If you are honest with yourself, you'd say life is disappointing
& disappointingly incomplete, more than just a little something
Is missing, like flat soda on a scorching day with no ice; the ice
Machine's busted: a sign posted at the truck stop. You're a fan
Of crushed over cubes anyway. At the motel you peek under
The Murphy bed and instead of customary dust bunnies you find
Actual monsters. The problem with humanitarian traps is once
You trap them you have to deal with releasing them somewhere.
You're not a killer after all. Mornings you wake hopeful till
The bathroom mirror butts in. Your family would run smoothly if
Everyone committed to sing language. Arguments would be more
Vanilla compact. Jerked around by your choke collar, your life tugs
You in this direction, not that. This Saturday, instead of a picnic, tour
The countryside to select the idyllic location for your grave. Isn't this fun
Kiddos? Some knucklehead is scratching his lottery tickets while you're
Trying to pre-pay for your fill-up of high test. Mostly you wish you had more.
Or less. Sometimes even weather fucks you in the ass. Historically speaking,
People paid off their mortgages, had mortgage burning shindigs,
Whisppersnappers torched draft cards and millionaires fired
Their non-Cuban cigars with "fitty" dollar bills. Now people are wicked
Different. It's all very different. The only liberating burning is our skin
On vacation. You'd rather not leave a child or dog unattended in a car.
The windows rolled up, on a sweltering beach-day. And what do you do
About the pieces of fruit rotting in the bowl, drosophila incubating on
The browning bananas and bruised mangos? This is your life now: the heater
And air conditioner simultaneously stuck on full blast and time's a stashed snowball
With a piece of glass meticulously placed in the center. You tuck it in the freezer,
Saving it for summer, snowball monopoly. But there are too many flip-flops
In the world, more flip-flops than feet. Successful people vacation with successful
People. That's why the unsuccessful spill red wine at parties and their suits seem
Wrinkled, out of date. Even Freud dreaded, some days, seeing his patients,
Unable to drag himself to the office. Let's all call in sick for no reason!
Some people nap through their lives and suffer insomnia during
Their deaths. Suspend all your superfluous subscriptions.
You might as well change your phone number. Not unlisted though.
You're not completely anti-social. Just once before you die, China
Would like to visit you. In the grocery, cows with anxiety
Between the meat and milk sections organize an impromptu stampede.
While brushing your teeth the foamy truth rabidly seeps out. Finally,
In this life you are only a tourist and your camera is disposable.
Today's book of poetry is completely smitten by the poems of Bruce Cohen. No Soap, Radio! is a small book, 6" x 7", and it may be the biggest thing I've read in years.
Cohen has mastered an utterly splendid dark geometry of the human heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in the Bronx, New York, Bruce Cohen’s poems and non-fiction essays have appeared in over a hundred literary periodicals such as AGNI, The Georgia Review, The Harvard Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry, Prairie Schooner & The Southern Review as well as being featured on Poetry Daily & Verse Daily—He has published three previous volumes of poetry: Disloyal Yo-Yo (Dream Horse Press), which was awarded the 2007 Orphic Poetry Prize,Swerve (Black Lawrence Press) and Placebo Junkies Conspiring with the Half-Asleep (Black Lawrence Press). A new manuscript, Imminent Disappearances, Impossible Numbers & Panoramic X-Rays recently won the Green Rose Prize from New Issues Press and will be published in spring 2016. A recipient of an individual artist grant from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, prior to joining the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Connecticut in 2012, he directed, developed, and implemented nationally recognized academic enhancement programs at the University of Arizona, The University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Connecticut.