Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rupert Wondolowski's Mattress in an Alley, Raft Upon the Sea

Mattress in an Alley, Raft Upon the Sea, poems by Rupert Wondolowski. New Orleans: Fell Swoop, 2012.

Wondolowski's zine-format collection begins with "1963," a snapshot of the year Kennedy died, which sets a bittersweet tone for the collection. In "Sometimes," he continues with sardonic humor: I grew up next door
to a friend with a former
Miss North Carolina pageant
winner for a mom
who always left the door
open using the bathroom.
Plus I went to Catholic School.
I never had a chance.      (lines 7-14).

Wondolowski's world is surreal and dangerous. "Anything Pointed, Edged, Angled or Blunted" describes:
...a gang in the remote
Peruivian jungle
[which] kills people for their fat
-keeping the liquid in little vials hanging from their belts.      (lines 16-21).
What can one do to guard against something like this? "...there's no way/to walk the/night streets/without your fat." He says (lines 33-36). This is so horrifying, it can't be real, right? But reality is darker than anything one could dream up. "Before Work" demonstrates this. It describes a visit to the doctor. "This is not where the shit goes down, this is/where we find out if you can take the shit/coming down." (lines 18-20).

But there are moments of joy. Wondolowski looks back to Superbowl Halftime commercials, old toys from childhood, pills. "Spring Makes Me Small," is one of the more upbeat poems, despite itself:

I am not as cheerful
as my shirt would indicate
or as horrified
as my hair

in between the seething
fur can be futile
and jackals make good dads

tumbleme this yoga mat
a sun rises from my
ribcage into my esophagus and
there just isn't room for it.

What stands out throughout the collection, of course, is Wondolowski's wit and cunning observations. There are many standout poems. "Some Late Night Thoughts of Mortality While Staring Glassy-Eyed at Karen Black," I mean, how could that not be a great poem? There's an underlying joie de vivre in these poems that I'm thankful to Wondolowski for sharing. In the final poem, "For Everly," he sums it up: "Drop the feeling nto a river and watch it spread/in far reaching ripples." (lines 7-8).

* * *
-CL Bledsoe

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