blows across the fuchsia
fly caught in courtship
an amber wand
white Turk brain
bring an amulet
This is “Coming revolution,” in full, from David Appelbaum’s The hairpin tax. Beginning with a piece entitled “Origin of the work in art”—where we go from caves to “old masters” to “this lidded tomb”—Appelbaum’s little chapbook piles the language on thick, “black syrup/ Winnebago” (14) and “razor-back sleuth/ ever-dying twin” (9) and “fake brown vinyl makeup/ leans along against a stud/ scored with cigarette burns.”
These “haunted trash words” can be, sometimes, rich, with seemingly intentional puns—“as on the goad ahead”—and crafted couplings of words—“edifying skirr of a fan,” “jagged edge along/ thistle spines a comb.” “Swagger craft at/ the new dame,” Appelbaum says, nicely, “Tucson rust-pocked/ arch roost/ but neither local nor/ germane.” As poems, however, such fragments don’t always click into place, leaving some pages of The hairpin tax reading too much like they’ve been produced by the tumble of the bingo hopper. Fair enough, especially as the text ends on a note at once self-reflexive and inconclusive, a longing left gaping into white space on the page. But then Appelbaum has to go and ruin it all, affixing a self-aggrandizing “Afterword,” which affects the reader like a chugged half bottle of cough syrup immediately after a meal, bludgeoning away all the earlier subtleties of flavor.
“The fragmentary poems are of flight, written in the full fury of movement from a known habitat to one full of strangeness,” Appelbaum insists. “The uncanny is their constant envoy. They enter into things at an obtuse angle and forget their origin, beyond good sense, beyond good taste and use of time.” It is such observations that go beyond good sense, that test the patience of readers, who should not have to listen to an author, whose poems we still hold in our hands and are capable of judging on their own visceral merits, go on about his own “excessively complex meanings.” More attention to the poems, and less to praising his own accomplishments, would have been a wiser path for Appelbaum to pursue.