Review by Kara Dorris
Magic Helicopter Press, 2019
74 pages, $12.00
Today it seems sometimes we adhere to Browning’s less is more philosophy. Who wants a significant other with three ex-spouses, 2.5 kids, one upside-down mortgage, and half a Siberian husky? Or a friend who’s desperate to hear a voice at 3 a.m., one who won’t hang up for three hours three nights in a row? The clingy mistress or the wacky, noisy neighbor? Instead, we have garage sales. We purge. We cleanse. We trade square footage for tiny houses. We let go. But in straight-lining, in letting go, what do we lose?
Leveraging an insightful and undeniable voice, Nate Logan’s Inside the Golden Days of Missing You won’t let us just skim the surface or ignore what is directly in front of us; instead of coasting along, these poems collect, hunt and gather what is often overlooked or disregarded. Think about what possessions perch on our mantles, bookshelves, coffee tables; the premise is we have no need for “straw wrappers” or a “wooden duck” because these abandoned trinkets can give us nothing in return. But in these pages, the speaker takes in many abandoned and orphaned moments, feelings, ideas, objects, and then shows us that the things we carry, or adopt, knowingly or not, define us.
In “How Can I Love You if You Won’t Lie Down,” the speaker says, “People don’t ‘adopt’ antiques.” But don’t we? The speaker’s wife takes pity on an antique wooden duck and “adopts” it, and the speaker consequently becomes obsessed with it. For a decade, the duck sits and stares into space while the speaker stares at it, wondering what secret it knows, what secrets it has witnessed, what wisdom it has to impart. The duck becomes a symbol of wisdom, and our longing for it, but also of our disconnectedness, the impossibility of wisdom without empathy for the world around us. The poem becomes a cautionary tale on what happens if we don’t take pity, if we don’t see the worth and rehome the orphaned wooden ducks we come across. Instead of letting go of life’s clutter, Logan asks us to slow down, to grab hold, to look closer. Even the title of this poem asks, how can we love anything when we are always on the go?
Slowing down is hard when we nurture our need for speed, as we click link after link, barely glancing to like or dislike before moving on. However, our lives offer endless associations, if we know where and how to look. In Logan’s “Bad Execution,” poems are cornfields; cornfields work as a space to slow down; slowing down is “the only way to cope,” when coping means contemplating “some big questions” like who among us could “admit to being gravedancers?” We must think about the unthinkable, that which makes us uncomfortable, that which kills us a little. Yet, we often approach such questions from the safe distance of a “satellite.” Not until it “tumbles end over / end, skips off a barn, and lands on top / of a basketball hoop” catching “nothing but net” can we access its wisdom. But to live this fully, to find the wisdom in election promotions, in a “sonnet describing a pastoral scene b/w a love triangle,” means that it’s rarely smooth sailing but mostly “windy day[s] at the department of interior.”
Nate Logan’s poetry is witty and surprising, the kind of poems that “line dance through metal detector[s],” juxtaposing the familiar and strange in new, exciting ways. Yet, these poems are also serious. In “Bananagram,” in which Logan connects Oliver North’s singing telegrams to heralds of death, we are reminded that “what starts as lighthearted often turns dark. sunrise / sunset // power on / power off // banana / banana bread.” These lines are an excellent representation of the collection as a whole: what seems easy-going quickly turns heartbreaking and thought-provoking. Isn’t that why so many proverbs and fables use humor and juxtaposition? How else to digest our difficult truths and lives?
What’s the alternative? In the title poem, the speaker runs into the “last Inactivity Studies major on Earth” at a grocery store. When the “shattered glass cussed at him” he leaves his apartment, instead of trying to fix it. Instead of caring about the “beheaded belly dancer” on the screen, he runs from her. But is this student really the last? Or, by setting him up as the last, does Logan show us that right now, at this moment, we can’t afford to sit by and do nothing? Or is this judgment, showing that too many of us sit idly by and do nothing, that we are unwitting Inactivity Studies majors?
As we shed mistakes, responsibilities, relationships, these poems remind us that “it’s easy to wax poetic at a resort” but we need the beautiful “horse heart” smashed “like a scratched country song,” and sometimes we need to “think the most horrible things and cry.” We need the loss and hope, the light and dark, the “Southern Living” and “Monster Island.” Logan’s poems are radiant and haunting, promoting a unique mindfulness, both guiding and challenging us to filter our everyday lives in fresh and astonishing ways. Perhaps we all should be antique collectors, adopting oddball moments and wooden ducks, questioning the small, overlooked items, finding the humor along with the tragedy. And who knows, maybe then we wouldn’t be “haunted lumberyard[s];” maybe then we wouldn’t feel so full of potential but so empty.
Kara Dorris is the author of Have Ruin, Will Travel (Finishing Line Press, 2019). She has also published four chapbooks. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Hayden Ferry Review, Puerto del Sol, Waxwing, and Crazyhorse, among others literary journals, as well as the anthologies Beauty is a Verb and The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked. She earned a PhD in literature and poetry at the University of North Texas. Currently, she is a visiting assistant professor of English at Illinois College. For more information, please visit karadorris.com.