097.1: Travis Mossotti:: Telémakhos and Odysseus & Where Is Baby Gabriel? & Howl in the Key of Blue & To and Fro 097

The speaker of Travis Mossotti’s poems possesses energy at once hilarious and wild, heartbroken and feckless. Adjectives used in this sense are not synonymous with being funny, edgy, sad, brave and comical (though, the poems are all of these and more!). Instead, I mean something teetering into the realm of madcap—a livid and ludicrous Odysseus chained to the masthead of his beleaguered trireme while those left of his crew dutifully row past the sirens’ song, hearing only the dumb show of hardening wax. Perhaps it is the contrarian in me to experience deep fear and anxiety when I hear conviction or humor in one’s poetry; however, Mossotti is the rare writer who manages to pull off this balance of vulnerability and self-assurance, as in the opening of “To and Fro”: “There’s a quiet valley in my heart and / a noisy public restroom in my wife’s / bum knee.” A weird and unsettling first few lines in a poem, but that’s to be expected as the poem exemplifies the indefinable and the idiosyncratic interchangeably. “To and Fro” questions whether the life lived merits a comic or a tragic ontological explanation. While settling for both and neither, Mossotti’s speaker takes his oddball sense of the world with more than a grain of salt. Rarely can the idiosyncrasies of a poetic speaker become as infectious as they do here. I’m pressed to recall others—James Tate, August Kleinzahler, or Wallace Stevens—who exercise this attribute so poignantly well.

Moreover, Mossotti’s thumbprint on the American grain rings true: why do our cultural and ideological narratives in America demand redemption? In “Where is Baby Gabriel?” the speaker ends the poem with the following declaration:

    I have grown wary of the narrative of redemption
    and justice and am bored with those who haven’t,

    with those who wait for the police to sniff out
    another climax, with those who wish they could be
    as cherished as baby Gabriel, just once in their lives.

Be it a feature film on Friday night, some intriguing true story gone viral on the internet, or in any or every narrative poem, story, or novel we read: we’re suckers for redemption. We thrive on it. As if the tension that allows for the narrative’s intrigue is too much to bear, and only if the knot can be undone in some digestible way are we, culturally and aesthetically, satiated. Nevertheless, the lament of Mossotti’s speaker rings true: what a tired culture we become when accessing the real, the true, or the authentic means accessing its pain, ugliness, and tragedy. This speaker and these poems are unafraid because they’ve become tarnished, beaten, and as they return from the brink, it would do us much service to listen. Cody Todd

Telémakhos and Odysseus

“It is my own fault, Father, mine alone.”
The Odyssey, Book XXII

I was only ten when the older kid
laughed and then knocked me down.
Afterwards, my father taught me to fight,

but when I got close enough the next day,
I forgot everything and simply bit that kid
till he bled.

I wanted to gouge his eyes
and feel them pop into place like buttons,
but I was weak and he beat me

until it was hysterical.
Twenty years later, I can’t remember
the kid’s name or why he knocked me down

in the first place, only that old anger
clenching its knuckles in my throat,

my father balling my hands into fists
and making me swear that I’d never back down
even when I knew I couldn’t win.

Where Is Baby Gabriel?

The latest baby to go missing teaches me
the value of youth and helplessness once again,
while mother hides inside an orange jumpsuit

and perjures herself in a Miami courtroom,
while father spins around the morning talk show
circuit lonelier than a Ferris Wheel operator—

but after a shower, I forget about Gabriel and loss
because I have to leave for work to teach English
to cheerleaders who still daydream Cinderella

and let the local Johnnys top off their tanks each
Friday night after the football game, and the football
players who pretend the tree of knowledge is only

a metaphor and that metaphors are for pussies
and poets; and still, each Monday I rouse and try
to show them how they can punctuate loss

with a semicolon, so perhaps a decade from now,
they will flip on the morning show after a night
of no sleep and realize this poem was never about

them or a baby Gabriel, and they will be right.
I have grown wary of the narrative of redemption
and justice and am bored with those who haven’t,

with those who wait for the police to sniff out
another climax, with those who wish they could be
as cherished as baby Gabriel, just once in their lives.

Howl in the Key of Blue

The neighbor’s little dog has been set to mute.
Through the window you might confuse
the dog’s bared teeth for a growl or bark but you
would be wrong; its voice has been removed

and replaced with absence. I know, cruel to do
to an animal of such limited resources. Screw
the larger implications to the pedigree and screw
the bark itself. The bark is just noise a dog spews

in place of the howl that once imbued
our hostile nights with song, that primal cue
of defiant sorrow meant to prick our subdued,
our thinned hackles towards a version of true

north. That poor chained mutt has no clue
what wild means, teeth bared, ready to
lick you like its master, to bow and beg you
for mercy, for domestic comfort, for food.

To and Fro

There’s a quiet valley in my heart and
a noisy public restroom in my wife’s
bum knee. She can’t predict anything
with it, although I do have a cousin
who claims he can not only predict
but control the weather. Things have
not turned out so well for him lately.
I haven’t heard a good joke in weeks.
Something with a nun would be nice.
I often think about people who hate
poetry and good jokes and totter to
and fro so seriously they might as well
be cast in bronze. I imagine too how
predictably they take the shrink wrap
off their genitals and it makes me want
to go out for ice cream or rob a liquor
store with a carrot. Just think of those
saints in their sandals and burlap robes
or death-row convicts strapped down
with leather and buckle. That’s serious.
Have you heard the one about the nun,
the saint, and the convict walking into
the steam room? Now that’s funny.