Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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In Newark, Ohio, you can play golf in the midst of prehistoric monuments, mounds now melded into the manicured green, somebody’s sense of cosmic orientation a means of pacing out the traps. Farther south there’s one shaped like a snake eating an egg or the world or the hind end of a frog or maybe just emerging from itself or possessed of a very large head—it’s hard to read piled earth, or hard to make mud structures especially legible, even without factoring for erosion. Maybe that’s why barn-painting gets such play. Oh, Ohio. As Babcock has it, the state, “she whispers, keep trying” to Tecumseh, reflecting on the shameful spectacle of “gunfire against arrows” at some outdoor summer stock. Ohio, where “The pie case turns / the color of the moon” and a waitress who “might be a virgin” sleeping under stars and soothing cows for slaughter calls her customers honey and rolls pennies between engagements. Ohio here is concrete, “gravel pits . . . repeating roads repeating dust” a spirit and a sensibility as well as a place in time where kids with cases of beer drive out to gravel pits or a girl shoplifts a cassette “protected / in a long, plastic case” by virtue of the fact that her “purse was longer.” Ohio of mush and molasses, apple jack, “tomahawk / and scalping-knife,” retail therapy and that recurring myth of resurrection. Consider the serpent mound, regurgitating some new globe. For Babcock, the tale to be retold is that of Jonah, relocated to Ohio (miraculously: “How did a whale / get to my gravel pit?”). But like the theatrical rehashing of the Indian Wars, this salt and seaweed show gets threadbare with replaying. Her Jonah “is getting too old,” though the audience—all of us, buckeyes, Ohioans all—once we’ve seen him “sucked / into rows of triangular fish teeth / and magically reappear” just want to watch it happen again and again, like earthworks sprouting the chemical green of golf course grass or a half-collapsing barn lit up with hex signs or advertisements for the tourist office.
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