029.1: Jamie Thomas:: Dialogue in the Suburbs & Demolition Fable 029

What drew me to the poems of Jamie Thomas was how the poet’s eye functioned. These poems are selective in what they reveal, and with that, are filmic. We only see what is presented in the shot. In both pieces, we enter into a narrative scene that plays out linearly and each progression or turn leads to its own quiet epiphanic moment. In “Dialogue in the Suburbs”, the camera moves in from an aerial overview of the topography of the suburbs into a close shot of the speaker grilling in his backyard. Thomas uses constant subversive threats illustrated by his clever and careful word choice in a scene that could otherwise be banal both in content and execution. It’s not a chain link fence, but a “cyclone fence.” At any moment, a storm could come and upend everything. This vanilla and planned community of identical houses and gridded streets resembles the “spines” of “prehistoric…fossils.”

There are monsters in this suburb that somehow exist despite, or rather because of, its homogenous design, monsters about which the speaker has great anxiety. When confronted with such a life, does the speaker have to manufacture these threats in order to stave off boredom? In “Destruction Fable”, the poet is again interested in the ways that we attempt to imbue the pedestrian with meaning, to create the epic out of sports talk or wielding a hammer. Thomas mentioned in an email to me that after Li Po he is interested in how the poet exists both within and outside of the landscape. In these poems he mines that territory and probes the question of what it means to be poet in a sometimes otherwise unpoetic world. His answer, simply, is that he makes it so. Nik De Dominic

Dialogue in the Suburbs

     (after Li Po)

The cyclone fence marks off each packaged plot
as far as the eye can see, which cannot
bend far enough to leave the quarter- half-
corner-lots behind, plastic mailboxes
their newspaper slots full of yesterday.
From the air streets looks prehistoric,
like the spines of some once-breathing giant
fossils that we are hitching rides on,
as microorganisms do to us,
hiding in our lids lashes underclothes—
isolation here impossible, unlike
stowing away in the anonymous
city or vacant-cornfield countryside.
From my backyard deck, half-empty can
of beer and jerk chicken grilling, my voice
reaches easily into five other yards,
five other homes quite like ours, three of which
are charring their own purchased cuts of meat.
All the neighbors back out of their driveways
same time each day and return as the sun
decides to begin its highdive routine.
And on the next street over and the next
the brick homes light their porches and repeat.
John bikes down the block with his two girls, waves
to us in his U of M baseball cap;
and we could be anywhere from Detroit
to Deluth. I want to say get out
while you can; I want the bumblebees to
float on their honey-dripping ways; I want
the fence just to do its job. How have I
come to live in this rust-bricked subdivision?—
I laugh, don’t answer—mysterious dark—
complicated lives in similar homes.

Demolition Fable

“Men of God put this structure up
and two unbelievers are taking it down,”
Ken says, looking so much like Vonnegut
with a claw hammer. I offer a laugh

as he reaches for the bigger pry bar.
Two days ago, at the beginning,
there was a solarium here: bent glass,
ceramic tile floors, olive aluminum siding

up to the trusses―all originally built by a crew
of builders sunlighting as preachers.
I imagine Ken is amused slightly
by my help―this is his life―and my

summer work. My advanced degrees
are in nothing that’ll be found
on this site, my borrowed hammer
awkwardly attacking the brick half-wall

covering the foundation. We talk
the small talk of sports and politics, mutual
respect what stands between us
and awkward oppositions.

Strange, that he assumes me an unbeliever
and I have him pegged as vaguely religious.
The work is hard in a way that allows
us to share in the extreme distaste of it―

they’d done one helluva job
erecting this home once upon a time. Men of God
armed with wood screws of God and staples
of his too, an endless horde of staples

devoted to assuring our supreme toil
in demolishing their creation. But,
it would go down, to make way for
what needed to be built next, something larger,

newer, to the family’s needs. The tile shards
would shred our hands on their way out.
The sun slapping us around. There would be blood
and lemonade made by the woman

whose home we were “improving”―
and she always politely told us so, even though
it looked like some chaotic shit
as it came down. 

She was a third-grade teacher, and
her answer to all problems seemed to be
juice and band-aids,
not bad wisdom in so many cases.

I couldn’t help but feel imposing,
willful, consequential; where there was once
this glass, sunlit room,
only the foundation remained,

which we would use to build
the two-story addition,
a less beautiful spectacle, but no less useful;
they needed the space, the change―

our needs change―The animals we become
require different attention. “This is
my third job here,” Ken says
as we rip the joists from their anchoring

places under the floor, “we just keep adding
on to this old farmhouse.” Which is what happens―
the structure would serve and stand until another
structure that served better would be

assembled on that old and same site,
as needed, as need is.