Sunday, November 14, 2010

Missing You, Metropolis—Gary Jackson

Wow. Just wow. This is great poetry, and it’s the perfect combination of subjects and attitude that I appreciate personally. The first poem in Gary Jackson’s Missing You, Metropolis is “The Secret Art of Reading a Comic”, written as a parody/homage of W. H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”. This combination of the “high” and the “low”—the appreciation of both tradition and the every day—is one of the reasons I love poets such as Wendy Cope. Gary Jackson nails it.
Jackson’s collection largely focuses on superhero comics, a subject I’m not completely unfamiliar with. My favorites in that genre are those that go beyond the often uncritical and superficial nature of superheroes and use them to examine and comment upon the complexities of our own lives. Examples of this include Alan Moore’s Watchmen and some of the X-Men comics written by Grant Morrison. Jackson does the same thing using poetry. His monologues in the voice of superheroes, or their family, or of anonymous bystanders, are all aimed squarely at examining the basics of being human: love, hate, fear, anger, ambition, aging, family life, yearning… So familiarity with superheroes is not a prerequisite for the reader.

Iron Man’s Intervention, Starring the Avengers

As if I can’t have a drink
or two in the morning,
before risking my life
for people who don’t
know my name.

As if I can’t enjoy
a bottle of Chianti
and a smooth woman
when I’m not disarming
warheads in mid-flight
over the Atlantic.

As if the bottle of Johnnie
Walker you found, half-
empty, in my briefcase
implies I’m not capable
of defending New York
from shape-shifting, green
men from another world.

A man at Starbucks shoved
me during the morning rush.
I stumbled on chairs,
fell. With my suit—
my marvelous iron prison—
I could pop his head with a flick
of one finger. But without it
I’m just a man lost in the city.

Meanwhile you walk
down the streets with a cowl
or cape the only difference
and you’re transformed—
the man underneath as real
as the one slamming villains
into concrete. You think
I need a drink to get in
the suit. But you’re wrong.

I need it to get out.
Other poems along this theme similarly humanize the superhuman: Mary Jane and Betty discuss their love lives with Spider-Man and the Hulk; Magneto laments hate crimes against mutants; a father holds his newborn mutant son.

This theme makes up about half of “Missing You, Metropolis”. The other half is more personally centered on Gary Jackson, often involving his childhood in Topeka, Kansas. Poems consider love and sex, gangs and drugs, race, and friendships changing over time.


Stuart shows me the cross-like scars
on his wrists, proud of his curiosity.
He wanted to see how the veins
pulled it all together, hoping to make sense

of god’s machine. Now I’m standing
with him in a room with twin beds;
crayon children dancing on wooden frames.
I’m trying to make sense of my friend

in a place where people pace down
the halls because they can’t write
with pencils or play the instruments
locked away in the rec room for fear

they’ll cut themselves with dull lead
and nylon strings. As I exit
I hear the whine of the speakers
announcing dinner: chicken breast

with green beans. Desperate to impart
some final words of empathy
that will convince him to stay with me,
I tell him it feels like a part of me

is in this place. He smiles.
A part of you is. Then laughs,
as if he realizes the world
has finally broken us
in two.
Each poem is accessible, beautiful, touching and clever. Highly recommended.

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