We Were Like Everyone Else. Ken Victor. Cormorant Books. Toronto, Ontario. 2019.
We Were Like Everyone Else by the soon to be well-known Ken Victor isn't much like anything else. Books of poetry this fine are as rare as hen's teeth. Victor writes mostly narratives but unlike the vast herd of poetry monsters out there he is rarely the hero of his story.
Today's book of poetry dove into We Were Like Everyone Else and wham! Victor's lead off poem kicked my poetry head hard. I knew instantly that this type of cooking had to be shared. The man can flat out burn.
The Discovery Of Mouths
At first eating was through skin
like plants: the way they devour sunlight
without teeth or tongue. Foods were
rubbed in, all over. Ripe avocados,
for instance: on bellies, on arms,
buttocks, breasts, scalp. Wherever
the body wanted nourishment. Feeding time
was a potpourri of ecstasies: a banana
on the spine, plums rolled
behind the knees, a sliced cantaloupe
cradling the elbow. All this was
thousands of years before the first
one-minute screen kiss, back
in the very earliest days of Eden,
back when thoughts jumped without
speech across the gaps between them.
Adam and Eve, that is, who never
missed a meal, sampling the Garden
all over their bodies: putting
leaf lettuce between their toes,
pushing ripe baby tomatoes into their ears,
pomegranates turning their genitals red.
How sweet the delicacies of those early days!
Before Freud, before gossip, before hunger.
We Were Like Everyone Else is one of those grab-bags you dig in to anywhere and come out rich. Ken Victor writes about all the big stuff; family, father/son relationships, parenting, death and the Angel of.
The poems vary in style but consistently hammer home the same messages, love your community, but family first, faith is an honour not an imposition, community again.
Ken Victor has studied with some of our generations very best poets and it shows; Jack Myers, Tess Gallagher, Philip Booth, Stephen Dobyns, Hayden Carruth and others. Many of the poems in We Were Like Everyone Else have previously been published in magazines or journals. We are lucky Victor decided to share them with us.
What Seems To Matter Most
When Ricky Holt, juvenile delinquent, booked into the woods
that day in '81 to escape his early-release program, I yelled to him
that he juked like the Juice, the way he was running in and out
between the scrub oaks and the pines, and Ricky stopped and
glanced back at me with that handsome black face of his, knowing
I could never catch him, so he smiled before disappearing, then
I had to radio for the dogs because we couldn't have him loose
this close to an off-season town on a windy stretch of Cape Cod,
so eventually they got him and hauled his ass back in front of me
and asked me if I wanted to take him back or have him locked up,
well, I said, without a moment's hesitation, you can lock 'im up;
I don't know why I said it, he wasn't a bad kid, just not able to get
his act together, which I understand, I mean was I much different,
I'm not sure I have it together now, thirty years after I said
lock him up, which is when Ricky went back into the system and
I didn't give him a second thought until the Juice again became
a story: his white Bronco going down the freeway, taking me
back to Ricky in those woods, dodging trees like nasty linebackers
aiming to take their crack at him -- blam! you sucker! -- Ricky
thinking he could get away, turn his big dreams into something
real the way O.J. had been The #1 Man for a lot of years, breaking
records and downfield tackles before he went to trial -- black man
white woman -- the whole sorry story driving out all other news
and America brought back to what seems to matter most to it,
me thinking how I was once the judge and the whole goddamn
jury and I made my decision lickety-split no second chances, you
either get with the program or you git, and I started wondering
where that came from, why there wasn't the slightest bit of mercy
wrapped somewhere inside my ready justice, as if I thought under
Ricky's Converse All-Stars he must have had bootstraps just like
those turn-of-century immigrants, and if he wasn't going to begin
to pick himself up I wouldn't do it for him, and so Ricky returned
to the state's secure facility where he'd started, where he'd wait
to hear what came next: words from the social worker, the juvenile
judge, the facility superintendent, pronouncements woven together
like strands in a rope vigilante citizens were only too ready to yank.
Ken Victor isn't afraid of taking on the hard truth poem and they can truly be a bother. Victor doesn't flinch, nor should he. Many of these poems involve lessons given and learned by his children, given and learned by our poet. These tender poems are cornerstones, are the blood and bone and love made cornerstones of Victor's foundation. These poems ring true like pure musical notes.
We Were Like Everyone Else is a book you will want to go back to. There is so much Today's book of poetry enjoyed but it doesn't all come easily. Watching those we love diminish and die in front of our eyes is traumatic - some of these poems will tear your heart up.
The day my son was born
my spiritual practice dissolved.
Whatever I had absorbed
on the wisdom of non-attachment
left in a great commotion. Rope of
-- what else can I name it -- love
pulled me towards his unopened eyes.
Expelled from his first home, he flailed
naked in the new light. I bent over my wife
and tasted the salt sweat beading on her brow,
stroked her hair matted in its disarray,
bent over both of them -- flesh
to flesh to flesh -- and whispered a request:
grant me another hundred years
to spend in my present form.
Ken Victor has some of the same demons we all carry and some of the other kind too. In We Were Like Everyone Else his humanistic voice will raise your spirits, some of his dark moments will haunt you, but luckily Victor also doses out enough hope to sustain all you poetry babies.
Ken Victor is first rate, We Were Like Everyone Else will be amongst the best poetry you read this year.
ABOUT THE POET
Ken Victor moved to Canada full-time from the States in 1990 after spending many summers guiding canoe trips in Northwestern Ontario. A graduate of the writing program at Syracuse University, over the years he has published his poetry in journals on both sides of the border. We Were Like Everyone Else is his first book. Now a Canadian by choice, Victor makes his home with his wife and three children in the Gatineau Hills of West Quebec, where he designs learning for organizations.
Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher. They are shown here for publicity and review purposes. For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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