The Earth Gods Are Coming. Gabe Foreman. Baseline Press. London, Ontario. 2016.
"Grace is electricity, science has found,
it is not like electricity, it is electricity...."
- Donald Barthelme,
"At the End of the Mechanical Age"
Today's book of poetry was terribly fond of Gabe Foreman's A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People (Coach House Press, 2011), so when we saw The Earth Gods Are Coming come through our poetry door we knew what we were getting into.
Foreman continues to write with one foot firmly planted on terra firma and the other in a variety of parallel and non-parallel worlds. The Earth Gods Are Coming has an entirely disproportionate serving of intelligent whimsy. Gabe Foreman is all about the "what if" universe.
The poems in this volume don't have titles.
You called music
of the masses.
Some songs were in the key of Lord Byron.
As though we found an orange on the floor
and held it to our faces.
Poke rivals with those keen little stars.
Now kick that charging security guard
in half, with your naked foot.
A cough, spread-eagling through the cove at low tide.
Charlotte, various breeds of unicorn prance in predawn meadows,
preying on incantations of your face expelled by the tiny lungs of songbirds.
You were not real.
At least not mentally real.
You were a gymnast, and I,
a musician hired by NASA
to sing about the moon.
"The moon beams are rafters branching over," etc.
"The moon's iambic diameter is at its maximum
when you come over," etc.
A ghost tugs a panel of ocean fear
across a dumpster's busted radio.
It pelts your grubby backpack with caddis flies,
and pelts as well the faded jackets
of the men who stoop after cigarettes
while another Saturday fills with cars
who crash into motels already on fire.
According to Foreman we might find some light in the Dead Sea scrolls, Ninja campers and corn-dogs. Talking oxen will relax our minds and ancient Mayans await pilgrims arriving in taxi cabs.
His random and encyclopedic flashes of brain lightning all point in the same direction, to grace, to electricity.
At the lamp store shopping for a lamp,
do you have any lamps
that don't work?
I need to replace a light which never worked
that I smashed when I was dying.
I have but one lamp
that doesn't work
but it comes with a curse.
Are you willing to purchase it
before I ramble on about the curse,
a hex both banal and morose?
I paid an exorbitant price
for when I took my new lamp home
and set it in the old light's nook,
before I stooped to plug it in,
Our morning read was big fun. Even though no one has seen the sun for a couple of days there is an unmistakable optimism that only arrives with the smell of spring.
Hard to know for sure if Gabe Foreman is an optimist but when my staff had finished reading The Earth Gods Are Coming aloud to each other they were all smiling.
What thoughts I have of you tonight, transformers, as the power fails in
a swelter, and the subway falters between stations. The charm of the
failing transformers is that they deliver peace to neighbourhoods that
might deserve a meal by candlelight. I remember a week of statewide
black out. This was years ago, decades past, in a similar heat wave. On
the second night, my wife (1) and I invited an old timer we spotted on the
street for supper. I placed a candle on the table. The man was bearded,
sweaty and grubby. Over cold soup and raspberry wine, he spoke of
desperate nautical voyages he had experienced, of near starvation at sea,
often in superb detail. I felt his story contained alien circuitry, but my
wife absorbed the hardship of the man's cannibalistic past and wept
openly. We never told him, but she and I had dabbled at people-eating
in college. In those days, our dorm had been a slow-cooker of untenable
grief. Those who grabbed hold of the burning filament and climbed
inside our fading bulb had made no promises, just as we had made no
plans. We had been different people. Over barbequed steak, our guest
half-forgot a joke whose punch-line was: you are what you eat. My wife
laughed. we were like one person then, the flickering meat, the dark
hallway behind where my wife was sitting, and the parts of the joke that
the old man had forgotten. When respectable Americans bid goodnight
to old timers, they seldom make chivalrous vows in Latin, or promise
never to forget, but my wife and I did both, first over fortified sherry
and blueberry pie, and a second time, on the porch, before the old man
finally staggered off into the darkness and was consumed. Before he had
left, our guest asked if he could borrow a flashlight. He asked again, as if
we had not heard his words. When he was finally gone, my wife and I
knew that we had done the right thing. We sat on the porch swing, and
counted all the flashlights in the house. There were six. One for each of
the babies that we had planned to have once the power came back on.
Look, a shooting star, I said. Amanda turned to me then, smiled, and
became an older man for the rest of her life.
(1) My wife's unusual superpower was that she would spontaneously change age
and sex, on average every few months or so. These transformations occurred
randomly, and were beyond her control. They presented a terrific challenge to our
marriage. More a curse than a gift really.
Gabe Foreman's considerable charms are almost too grand for a chapbook but Saint Karen of Schindler seems to be able to carry any weight with her marvelous Baseline Press. Schindler continues to produce chapbooks of subtle and exacting beauty and fills them with poetry worthy of the splendor.
Today's book of poetry is a sucker for certain things and the Japanese Uzumaki tissue used to make the flyleaves for The Earth Gods Are Coming is beautiful enough to make you cry.
Gabe Foreman's The Earth Gods Are Coming reads like a much larger book, good poems do that.
ABOUT THE AUTHORGabe Foreman's first collection, A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People (Coach House, 2011), was awarded the A.M. Klein Prize for poetry and was shortlisted for the Concordia First Book Prize. Gabe lives in Montreal where he works at a soup kitchen.
TPV Spring 2012: Gabe Foreman "Should I listen to this ox?"
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