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Damian Rogers, Dear Leader
Toronto: Coach House Books, 2015.

Say you’re a poet. Maybe you mean

Hi, I have a lot of feelings.

 

1.

I balanced Dear Leader’s ephemeral swag on a shelf in my son’s room. White pin-back button, pink writing: Hi, I have a lot of feelings. Beacon in gaping night, bleary, murk of the everytime—bauble face and its blistered resignation. Poets and six-month-olds have excess in common. When his crying scours me out of sleep, I stuff down despair, apathy, the need for a mother of my own. Paw toward white noise, mood spilling over. His inclement weather. When I can’t bear to stare at his face, I glare at the flush of words and they remind me we’re alike. I’m one of the verklempt poets exposed in Rogers’s work, trying to find safe paper the ability to write it down right. We’re of one another but not one. I’m the mother. I can put a button on his shelf if I want.

 

2.

Meat nipples, sutured vulva, waterbed belly—everything’s fucked. I binge read Dear Leader with a baby beside me, on me, my t-shirt fibreglass. There’s ice between my legs and Rogers’s poems leak into me. Sleeplessness is reverberating, fractal. I live in flashes of nightmare—a giant black beetle crawl[s] onto the street flexing its wings—and I can’t scale. Can’t know the difference between three o’clock and three o’clock or the house and the street or my skin and the hardened exoskeleton of the milk pump, sclerite on my breast.

 

3.

Voices boil through the rooms, suppurate. Everything you’re afraid will happen already has. A slipped jar of pickles pulps my son’s skull. He drinks pure booze from my breast and blinks his mouth like a netted guppy, dry and dumb. The winds come and, in my arms, his baby body is sandblasted silver. His face rasps away as dust.

 

4.

Use the world up—gas your car; colour your mouth; beach. Vacate. Everything we’ve done is for the best. Visionaries in Rogers’s poems call out blind stupidity Let’s keep wasting our lives and burn / our trash as we go and they are wrung out and frayed from this seeing I cried this afternoon. It’s my new thing. Glossy pictures of large expanses of Caribbean Sea glamorize consumption and cover over the desolation of wastefulness there’s no such thing as blue water. And there are the urban fortifications too, protection against the raw edges of the world—ostensibly away from cold nights, hunger, predation. But the city eats its own. We live in / the arteries / of a large / ugly animal / and I saw / it move. I try to ignore the gobbling because, for now, it’s furnishing all my desires.

 

5.

The bed is itchy, nettled with cotton. The heaviness of lifting lungs. Every blood-bright jolt through my wiring’s like lightning. And my neurons’ turbine. I want to fucking scream. But my partner is sleeping beside me and the baby’s in his room sleeping or dead. Probably dead. I check the monitor again. My son’s bum is in the air, thumb in mouth. Make the screen go dark. Try meditation, an effort to slow down breath. I’m working this summer on inventing the life I’m already living. Piece by piece, the world: husband, baby, and a house to keep them in. Look at your works, you asshole, and despair. I take pills to dose this dread.

 

6.

Four degrees warmer. At least. And I had a goddamned baby. And when I saw his shit-smeared body, I wanted ten. And I’ll keep having babies to pile on top of me at night—to fill a bed, a backyard, a prairie—and tell me they love me.

 

7.

When I get to the last section of Rogers’s book, I hear the unsettled voices of survivors. Here, the Dear Leader poems are collected and the world is a garbled reality—part remembering, part forecast. The addressee is somehow related to the leader of the lost from the book’s epigraph, but whether the lost are members of a cult or the straggling remainders of an apocalypse doesn’t matter. The significance lies in the flavour of condemnation for our entire species: the only honest eyes belong to babies and dogs. In “Dear Daughter,” one speaker gives an account of the world before—and it looks a lot like an already fallen world, with bands of beloved wife beaters and Christmas trees crying on the curb. Ah, that’s my world. I saw my enemy unhinge his jaw to suck down a kitten. That’s the world I pushed my son into.

 

8.

His name is Winter. For fallow. For retreat. For the invisible sun far beneath the horizon. The disappeared and the long darkness. For highways and the deepness that extends overhead. For air hoar and proton light and pole star. Quietude. Heaviness and wool. For he’s hardy. We are of the north and he’s stone. For I don’t want him to be alone but we’re alone. At the end, here. Etched in purples and whites and greys. For transience. For the lost and the stolen. For he’s a cloud at the level of my heart.

 

9.

The visionary is bedridden. The visionary does violence to herself, imagines the ones she loves dead in their favourite chairs, dead in distant car crashes. The visionary designates a community of women, mass meditation—the women I know go shut-in, sleep in their clothes for days in a row. The visionary and her sisters are in their individual beds in their individual rooms. Through the sea’s green lens, I see your future shrink.

 

10.

Rogers’s voices are often mothers—but together they speak with more urgency and authority than any one mother can. They’re mediums, singing the outcome of the lives we’re leading and witnessing our poisoning as we gulp it down. This book is so sad, delivering a terminal prognosis. But it also records a parent’s cognitive dissonance—hope. Rogers offers the collection: for the ones / yet to come.

 

11.

Everything you’re afraid will happen already has. It’s after the end of the world. What next.

 

12.

My son is what’s next—he’s how I spend my time and he’s the germ of me, of my genes. Maybe there will be no children playing in the long grass. I don’t know if he can survive the world I’m creating.

 

13.

I devoured Dear Leader with a baby beside me, on me. We cry together. It’s our new thing.

 


All phrases in italics are from poems in Damian Rogers’s Dear Leader.

 

 

Brecken Hancock’s poetry, essays, interviews, and reviews have been published or are forthcoming in The Puritan, Best Canadian Poetry in English, Lemon Hound, and on the site Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. Her first book of poems, Broom Broom (Coach House Books, 2014), won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, and was named by The Globe & Mail as a debut of the year. She lives in Ottawa.

 

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