Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: A TRIP THROUGH DOWNER, MINNESOTA by Gretchen Johnson

I’m not really that much into poetry, but after reading the entertaining stories of Gretchen Johnson in The Joy of Deception, I couldn’t resist.

These poems actually don’t read so much like poems;  they feel more like little stories—stories told from the eyes of a middle-aged man dealing with his overbearing mother, nagging girlfriend, and every dull drone in his sleepy town of Downer. Each is a mere observation. For instance:

[Excerpt, pg. 13]

Today I saw an old man walking
with a young dog,
and I wondered what they’ll do
when the other is no longer here,
the dog having no one to feed him
and the man no one to walk toward.

As I continue reading, the nameless narrator feels restless in his town, in his life.

[Excerpt, pg. 23]

Sometimes, in the middle of the night,
I pack a suitcase in my mind,
softly sliding shirts and slacks, socks and shaving cream
into the dusty suitcase while Charlene snores in the next room,
and I sit alone in the quiet living room,
stuck on the sofa with a cup of powdered cocoa in hand,
my finger follows highlighted highways
across state maps spread out over the coffee table,
and I can feel myself driving south
through Pipestone and down 75 past Rock Rapids, Iowa,
watching the sun rise over foreign fields
as Charlene sleeps to dawn
but I always rinse the cup out, fold the maps,
and head back to bed, and Charlene always wakes before me
and plans another day out too swiftly
for me to ever escape it.

This made me wonder: People are always dreaming and scheming of getting out—out of a job, out of a relationship, out of the parents’ house, out of the state, out of this world—but, in the end, we always end up back where we started. Why? Are we mindless hamsters constantly riding in the spinning wheels of our cages? Perhaps that’s all we know.

[Excerpt, pg. 35]

Charlene is destroying me,
too slowly for anyone to notice,
like the Mount Rushmore t-shirt
worn and washed too many times
And she says she loves me
as she shears my hair too short for January air,
talks endlessly through the last lunches with my mother,
spends nights uninvited,
and insists I shower with rose-scented soaps
and sometimes I stand alone
in my fast fading house and wonder
how many washes are left
before I fade completely.

Must we lose ourselves to gain another?

My favorite one had to be the one that compared Charlene to a tornado, only getting worse in its lingering presence and eventually destroying everything in its path. Of course, my review is based almost entirely on these few select poems; others weren’t quite as memorable. Still, the good writing was there.

Thought-provoking and candid. Well done, Ms. Johnson!

My rating: 4 stars


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