Wednesday, April 4, 2012

About the Dead by Travis Mossotti

Utah State University Press, 2011. If you’re looking for poetry of brawn and muscle and girth and vertebrae, look no further than Travis Mossotti. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting him over beers and oysters and hearing him read in Tallahassee at FSU’s visiting writer series. Let’s just say those undergrads there for extra credit had no idea what was coming.

This book is awesome because it is written by a real person—not some phantom or peacock feathers—about other real people. About the Dead might as well be called About What They Leave Behind, but don’t expect a lot of sitting around and wailing. People do shit in this book. They go tubing (“One generation has tended to this river the same/ as the last and we’ve come here to mock that”), get arrested, go to church, play the blues, and hoe weeds in the same way they might bury their dead. They live in real places that have gas stations and fried chicken meals and hillsides where the dead “…lean against the wood frames/ like turnips wondering why nobody/ ever comes to visit.” In “Alice,” a poem that gives me goose bumps, the speaker follows the memory of a lost love in such tender and unapologetic language:

Maybe it was the seam of your black stocking
I trailed through Appalachia, chicken dinner
cooling on a billboard, the sky opening up
its empty skull, gravel dust powdering
my unkempt hair with the same dull ivory
of the letter you sent me telling me not to come

And—thank God—the speaker of these poems feels real people feelings. Nothing is more irritating than a voice that pretends not to hold grudges, wallow in self-pity, get horny (“She walked like most people wish they could fuck.”), get pissed off, get even or at least try our hardest to like the rest of us. When the poem “Apology” ends with this stanza:

Maybe your time down here might’ve been better spent
learning to fire an M-16 instead of patchworking daisies
into your coffin lining. I apologize, that last one was out of line.

we know the speaker doesn’t really apologize, and that makes me cackle.

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