Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Even the Dead Are Growing Old Poems by Don Winter
Working Stiff Press
Review by Dennis Daly
I hated these poems shortly before I liked them. They irritate. They grate. They steal your comfort. They screw you up from toe to head with their revelations of dark cruelty and bright cityscapes of emptiness. But pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle you get to see the down and dirty desperateness and shellacked heroism of an Urban Everyman’s life—maybe your own.
Cold Fact, the first poem in this collection, confronts you with the callousness of unfettered capitalism. The poet fearlessly states his case,
you can find in evil good
if you are good enough.
But where’s the good in
“Ideally you’d have every factory
you own on a barge, tow it to where
labor costs were the lowest.”? Still,
small towns withhold
their terminal truth, too afraid
or indolent or drugged to ask
who is fucking them,
I mean really…
The poem continues with a litany of families broken apart and individuals gone bad due to government supported decisions of greed glutted corporate bureaucrats. I know something about this subject and I have seen those families in real time. I saw a work force of 16,000 decimated to less than 3000 employees with little transitional training of any value. Their jobs moved to other countries on that “barge” Winter mentions. The human beings themselves seemed to just vaporize.
In the poem entitled Strip Bar: Hamtramck the poet details the initial excitement of moving into the environs of a strip joint with the dancing, the dangling money, the upturned faces, and the “goddamn of music” and bare skin. The denouement of this piece offers the other lonely side of the tale. Winter says,
When she finally got to me
I stuck a dollar bill
where my eyes had been.
Her face had the alert sleepiness
of a cat’s. She smiled
vacantly, moved on to the next dollar.
I drifted into the night air.
The lights on my rig pushed
the dark aside, moved me
towards the house, towards
no one waiting.
Sometimes the title of a poem summons a back story, which infuses the piece with extraordinary significance and meaning. My Grandfather was a Matewan Miner is one of those poems. Winter sets up the poem as a photograph: a bunch of coal miners posing for the camera. As they stiffly hold their breaths for the shutter we can see that they are dying from inside out. This was about the time of the so-called Matewan massacre in West Virginia—the back story. When the United Mine Workers tried to unionize these same workers, the miners were evicted from their company housing. The local sheriff Sid Hatfield with the town’s mayor and well-armed citizenry in tow faced off against the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency (a private army of company- hired gunmen). A shootout ensued and eleven people died including seven detectives and the mayor. Detectives later murdered the sheriff. Federal and state troops were called in to stop the violence and the union’s organizing. Here’s part of the poem,
Coal’s turned their faces
into dim candles. Their teeth gone at 30.
With each cough they still mine
the coal in the dark
of their lungs.
They stare down the future.
Dust will frame their dreams.
Nice touch at the end. Dust to dust—coal dust, that is.
The poem Visitation in which the poet’s persona laments his inability to visit his child hangs like a pall above this book. His sadness seems to etch itself into these pages. He says,
All night I keep arriving
in someone else’s childhood.
And once a year you send
a postcard of his happiness.
The poem As Time Goes By meditates on the innocence of the past and the reality that dreams once proffered. Winter shows us an aging piece of Americana, the drive-in theater on Route US 31. Then mulls over its memories and meanings. Winter describes a moment of innocence,
… kids from days
of tight pants & tight dreams, we stretched out
under the night sky,
looked for a sign from the stars
like a cosmic lottery.
Of course the title of the poem was the song of innocence banned in Rick’s bar in the movie Casablanca. In fact the song highlighted the cynical son-of-a-bitch that the Bogart character had seemingly become. The poet leads us in the same direction. Describing the present realty of truckers the poet continues,
men slump alone
in rigs & deeply smoke. Big assed, barrel-chested
cowboys who eat double-fisted, steer
with their knees…
But like in Casablanca memory has its moment of triumph. Winter says it this way,
…a few remain, hang on
memory, like those unknown connections
we used to credit to the stars…
The title poem Even the Dead are Growing Old tells a horrible tale of competition with a woman’s dead boyfriend, a boyfriend she loved beyond all logic. The poet mulls over his problem,
…I can see
by her eyes she won’t let him go.
I don’t tell her I knew the guy.
I worked misery whips in Washington
with him on the other end.
Woman he was screwing then
used Maybelline greens, foundation, grape lipstick—
nothing hid the welts, things he’d done to her.
Once she wrote FUCK YOU in empty beer cans
Across the lawn. Then he flicked his knife
Like a match before her eyes.
Okay, so these things need to be told. It pisses me off but I get it. I’m not sure I like Don Winter’s persona. Hell, I’m not sure I even like Don Winter. But damn this poet can write. He’s a natural and I’m envious.