Alien Freight. Stewart Cole. Anstruther Press. Toronto, Ontario. 2017.
Stewart Cole's Alien Freight is Today's book of poetry's third book of the new year and it is a slightly different and difficult cargo. Not for the reader, no, that's all pleasure -- it's Cole in his elegant laments. In Cole world the need for change is being addressed, we don't always know what change will bring, but as Cannonball Adderley said, "Mercy, mercy me."
This short chappy has Cole "deluded raw" with prognosticators, mortified at his own imminent murder at the hands of a child he does not know, ending fashion, musing on the ambiguity of airport controllers and conversing about the sixth bell, the executioner's death knell, the Doom Bell. And there's more.
What struck Today's book of poetry about Alien Freight was the palpable tension under the surface of Cole's very precise language.
I am being followed by a child
This is a new kind of fear
The afternoon sprawls like a dog on its side
Adrift in oblivion
The sky is like a sheet of rock fired to the blue verge of combustion
The street a blotchwork of modest border gardens
Cropped walkways and flagpoles
Decked for summer's next rah-rah-liday
Everycolored front doors radiating
Tacit no thank yous
Is this place still pre-apocalyptic?
Am I really among the unplagued?
Other than the inexorable dot
Tracking me up the sidewalk at a steadily shrinking distance
Now swollen to a splotch
This scene lacks a fellow presence
Even the hazy humanoid shape
Of a faceless hose-wielder three lawns down
Or an umbral blur nursing a High Life deep in a stoop
Would lend me a clue
I am not wandering the solitary void
But without such neighbors I'm left to wonder
What if all the uncaught murderers are children
Because we just avoid looking there
Afraid the truth will stab us in the eyes
Or what if that kid behind me
Is ageing and growing the closer he gets
Oh yes he has bridged the distance by half already
Become a teenager and suddenly
I am old enough to be rebelled against
My genes have lost their modishness
Legs gone columnar
At this pace he will overtake me within not years but instants
Even now his lengthening arms
Could loop a garrotte around my throat if he chose
Outgrown shoelaces or catgut rent from a neighborhood stray
Some umbilical surrogate
But no he does not choose my death
He seems to want little more than to know I'm behind him
And there he goes like bony wind
Just as old as moments ago I was young
I look back hoping to glimpse
My little doomster
Who wasn't trailing me after all
Only briefly laying string along the same spell of asphalt
From his fuller spool
Cole's poetry has that crisp clean white sheet smell of spring and the first open windows because his language is so precise and dare I say proper. But the counterpoint to Stewart Cole's explicit and careful diction are the ideas that fuel these poems.
Alien Freight is one of those books where first glance says that the water is tranquil and calm -- but as soon as you test the water you know, the reader realizes that there are eddies and undertoads lurking just below the surface.
Minding the Gaps
Glimpsing London's suburbs
Through gaps in a blue of hedgerows
I forbid myself to wonder
At least for longer than a leaf's breadth
What out there that might touch me is smudged out
This train is serpentine
A land eel furling with androidal ease
The ocular panels along its sides
Of which I am only one of many retinae
Perceiving only world-melt
I am ostensibly going to Exeter
But just now it's easy to slip
Into who knows
Adventure like abduction
Without the black hood
I can see and yet the sight is happening
Housing estates livestock a ruined abbey greening
Digested by the ancient hills
The grander-scheme import of which
You will forget
As the fanged stoat from the rabbit's nape
As though from a flagon of river water
Shaken with ancestral ask
As if it isn't knowledge you see
But some osmotic soul-food
To be filled up with blurs
That might later resolve themselves
To return to where you really live
With changes in your blood
Our morning read was somewhat truncated this morning. There were a few no-shows among the minions this morning. -39C (with windchill) so a few people were running late and starting slow. Stragglers are still arriving.
Stuart Cole's Alien Freight might suggest he has little faith in our ability to right the ship, and then ship righted, not to drive the fucker right on to the rocks. Cole sounds polite and proper but he has the heart of an anarchist.
Henceforth All Flags
Will fly at half-mast
Awaiting the miraculous
A lasting tribute
To the aching truth
We all possess within us
Like phosphorescence in a daylit sea
Dormant until nightfall
There dwell among us those
Who usurp the name of Optimists
Who want to simply cut
All flagpoles in half
And fly our banners at lowered summits
Heed them not
These kissers of ceilings
Whose cult of shrunken hope
Would suspend us in a choiceless chrysalis
Leaving forever unhoisted
The white flag of the Faceless
Which one day will wing to that barren pole-top
And bliss us collectively out
With its final I give up
Alien Freight is a short and tasty treat. Today's book of poetry will be looking forward to Stewart Cole's next.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stewart Cole is the author of Question in Bed (Goose Lane, 2012). A Canadian expatriate, he lives in Wisconsin, where he teaches at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
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