The Viral Lease feels like a single poem to me, in fourteen sections of a page or slightly less apiece. Most of the poem is in distichs, but about halfway through it starts opening up into longer breaths. Like its predecessors, it is frighteningly funny or funnily frightening -- certain lines, like certain sentences of Gary Lutz, prompt a chuckle that is frozen a sliver of a second later as the image that inspired the chuckle reveals a disturbing or unnerving side: "The tattoo on your arm / of your own name crossed out."
War occupies a lot of the background here -- but which war? "Give me the war // under the cornfields // & denim." Are we in Iraq or Nebraska? The answer: yes.
"Give me the war" is the first of the poem's many urgent but obscure imperatives, which persuade us that they need to be carried out even without our knowing what carrying them out would entail:
Burn new June / to blanket.
Dock the cotton / in war night.
Seal the melding /for a bitter war & tongue / a rat dazes.
Remove those roots / of the hand become a cage / for the wren.
Wear the plugged night / of plugged ears.
Wherever we are, it's cold ("Snow packs your knees / to zeros") and full of dangers ("Carry the bodies / from the classrooms, / limp arms dangling / fingers in the mulch"), but tiny kinds of help occasionally beckon ("I will warm your frozen hands / in my cold hands"), and perhaps sheer alliteration will see us through a gauntlet of terrors:
The war has broken
& bruised wider
than eyes. Your branch
Your brother is a breath.
Knit the nine uses:
joan or cattail;
jane or leaded;
washed of virtue
beyond the face
broken by the throat's
broken by the bomb
beneath the black cloth
of a man's
The Viral Lease is about as dark as its embossed black cover (nice design job, by the way, from the folks at Small Anchor Press) but its imagination and exuberance somehow make one feel that all is not (yet) lost.
What excellent news it is that Mathias Svalina has a full-length collection due any minute now ("Fall 2009") from Cleveland State University Press. I may buy two, one to lend out, one to keep safely on the shelf.