What Weaponry - a novel in prose poems.
Elizabeth J. Colen. Black Lawrence Press. Pittsburgh, PA. 2016.
What Weaponry - a novel in prose poems saunters into the room like a tattooed lady in a perky summer dress with a pistol in her purse and a smear of lipstick still tasty on her lips. Elizabeth J. Colen is not new to this game and her characters are all body and soul, just like a jazz song, tattered and somehow still hopeful on the battered field of love.
These beautiful assaults are instant karma and sad fate. Colen has access to instantaneous emotional intensity with her wide open heart channeling all the dreams of her wounded heroes.
This poetry novel burns.
We Are Only Animals Furred
In this land time stops, white bird hovering in the
pre-dawn. Unseen fawns high step the wet grass.
And we, feet and shin bathed in shallows seas of
scrub, marvel at the complete dark. "There's
nothing," you whisper, and then say nothing more. I
know you mean the world has closed its doors.
We haven't slept but tired's come back to wild elation
the way all things circle back to meet their opposites.
The way I sometimes become you again. And
through bare toes feeling for the towpath, and that
stab of electric light moved on by our motion, we
find the neighbor's barn door. No light in neighbor's
kitchen, no horse sounds from the yard. Only the
crickets and your breathing, pale face posed, the
gun still in your hand.
Today's book of poetry was gobsmacked by What Weaponry and pleasantly so. Every time I begin to waver another poet comes along to give us hope. Today's hope is supplied by these electric jolts from Colen's stun gun. Elizabeth J. Colen is a talent to celebrate.
We have heard all these stories before, in one version or another, after all, how many stories are there? But Colen has found the right traction to make her startlingly lived-in/innocent voice unique.
Today's book of poetry had some extra help this morning. Before everyone else arrived I was sitting in the shade at the front of our building and rereading What Weaponry and enjoying the quiet street, the occasional cardinal whistle, the sun coming through the large trees down the road. Our friend Pistol dropped by with his pal Thomas. When they sat down I handed What Weaponry over to Pistol and asked him to take a peek. Pistol started reading, he always opens a book of poetry at a random page and starts in there, and the first time he raised his head he was smiling and said "well, that was okay." And of course he meant much more.
He buried his head in What Weaponry again and when he came up for air he was a convert. Pistol doesn't like all that much, I show him poetry whenever I can, but when he does like it I know I've hit on something special, splendid.
There's a tattooed girl at the counter in the bread
shop and she's thin and she's tough and she's scarred
and you start talking about what her life must be
like. Tank top, wife beater, fresh bruise on her chin.
You wonder if she's somebody's wife. And the shirt
doesn't come all the way down to her pants, which
are low, which are black, which are ripped at the
knee. And the shirt is a little dirty around the
middle like she'd rubbed up against some dirty
truck. And I see your eyes turn down and you look
at her waist and you whisper something about
stretch marks. I tell you you have no business
speculating about the nature of those. Was she fat,
you said, but you decided it was babies. And how
many. You give her seven babies, but she's probably
only twenty-three and just looks forty-four. She
hasn't had time, I say and you say, she looks like the
world, this girl, she looks like the whole damn world
has been sitting right in her lap.
There's a dark engine revving hard and running the show in Colen's wheelhouse and the poems in What Weaponry are often bracing as a result. But Colen is wall-papering her sad confines with jewels. No matter how darkly set these gems glisten with revealing light.
Today's book of poetry found Colen's mastery of the prose poem invigorating. Each of these poems ends up bigger than the sum of it's parts. These are screenplays. Colen seasons each page with an intoxicating mix of tender, tawdry (in the best possible way) and tired.
When Today's book of poetry says "tired" we are talking about that bone-funking weariness that too much experience welds onto your face like ritual scars.
Last Meal Of Gin
What it took: two days to get used to. The break-off,
lesion to touch, legion. And where were you when?
And then admitting that dream. What breaches.
What I would have made up, but didn't. From there,
dories everywhere, talk of unicorns, what horns,
whatever, the red birds that did not alight on my
arms: there was no going back. Everything right
now is about you. Standing in the dim kitchen,
knee-deep in me. Standing in the living room, the
lights clicking off. Timers. I can't see the face for the
face, can't see the place for the what if. We were a
mob of lost parts, a wreckage of history. Weekends
are tiny models of the world, what weeks want to be.
Sometimes what years. Might contain all electric, all
thought. Which way we went. A tug on the hair and
the clock shakes, pulling you forward by bangs,
waking up bruised. Waking with loss everywhere.
Elizabeth J. Colen's What Weaponry is exactly what Today's book of poetry wants to see when we open a book of poems. We want to see sparks fly, stick around and find out what is buried in the ashes.
Colen made a fan out of our friend Pistol this morning and that's a difficult get. Today's book of poetry was already convinced.
Elizabeth J. Colen
ABOUT THE AUTHORElizabeth J. Colen is the author of poetry collections Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010) and Waiting Up for the End of the World (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012), flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011), long poem / lyric essay hybrid The Green Condition (Ricochet Editions, 2014), and Your Sick (Jellyfish Highway, 2016), co-written with Carol Guess and Kelly Magee. She teaches at Western Washington University.