by Michael Earl Craig
Factory Hollow Press, 2012
Letterpress cover, hand-sewn
I was alone in my car the other day, which is to say I was driving, and listening to news about the Iowa Caucus, which is weird because usually when I am alone in my car I listen to terrible music, and could not help but notice how remarkably similar every candidate sounded.
Look at my America, they shouted over each other, trying to be heard, it will be good and recognizable and full of all your favorite parts of the country placed together and dipped in a golden light. DO NOT look at my opponents America, it will scare you, it is a murky dive into the unknown, step with me safely NOW PLEASE into the golden light.
I was like, “Two Americas?” and put on terrible music.
Soon after, Michael Earl Craig’s new chapbook Jombang Jet fell into my hands seemingly out of nowhere. These poems laugh in the face of stratification. They are all like, “Nope, one America.” They display murk in a golden light, where it looks best.
The chapbook opens with a discovery: “There is a new texture in the applesauce.” In the most consistent of foods, a newness. Later, a “simple and comprehensive list” of insults reveals itself to be a love poem and someone realizes he is: “A house plant that arranges words/ on a white sheet of paper.” One thing is always turning into another, these poems seem to say, and isn’t it great.
It is so great! The transformations that occur in Jombang Jet are never the unfocused prodding of a malcontent. They examine the big and small ways we test and reason with the world, attempting to understand it. They contain moments when I am convinced to have faith in things.
“Glass of Wine” starts “When I come home from work it looks/ as if a tortoise has trashed my apartment.” Here entering a home and finding it vaguely unfamiliar becomes something else entirely when then the turtle does not leave the poem and instead uses its newfound agency to run into a wall, making the reverent sound “the humble knock a shoe or boot/ might make on the side of a church pew.”
In “Flowers in the Pond,” Craig describes taking a boat out onto the pond:
I hum a little tune as I step into the boat
and push off. The boat knocks and sloshes
gently. It is like riding in a large metal shoe.
The final description is both exact (especially considering the kind of boat one might take out on a pond) and somehow tangible. Perhaps it is because I am so familiar with shoes. I put them on every day and when I do I know they will take me to the places I tell them. Here is a moment to confront the opposite.
Jombang Jet’s power moves me by simultaneously obscuring and revealing. Craig holds open a door in the wall and invites me to enter first. He does not lead. Make this man our president.
Ted Powers lives in Northampton and attends UMass-Amherst. His poems have appeared in Strange Machine, NOO Journal, GlitterPony, Jellyfish, and Sixth Finch, among others.