about the author

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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Aroma Truce
A Review of Aroma Truce
by Terrell Jamal Terry

Spencer Dew

This book wrestles with the question of caring, every action understood as weighty in the wake of the basic existential realization, “Damn, we die.”

So what of the pleasures, the amusements and distractions—banal or sublime—we get ourselves into in the meantime? What of boredom: is that a sort of sin, as our quantum of time here in these bodies, breathing this air, under this sky, flits away, grain by grain?

Terry takes us down to the chapel to ponder such questions direct from the Lord; he rides the “Four of five hours / from a bus stop to bedtime / & that feathery pink smell of a KJV’s / barely touched, crisp pages.” Even in sleep, radios whisper: this world is infused with magic, but is it enough?

A narrator declares “I carry a secret mortality, / a homemade cosmology / in notebooks. // Compassion is a dirty word. // I’m more curious about / planting myself / & not being bored wet.” Or, elsewhere, “I sift through larger darkening thoughts—the dense melodies make this magical string of sense, sounds that suggest that no one can really be near us. Why can’t I clutch clouds that outsize my size? I still ask nonsensical questions.”

One gets the sense, however, that “nonsensical questions” are those most relevant, those cutting to the heart of what it means to responsibly engage the wet work of being human, to avoid becoming a ghoul, to remain open to enchantment—which means being vulnerable, which means recognizing mortality, which means questioning the whole purpose of carrying and having, as one poem here puts it, “A version of hope slides out as a bleak thorn, & that version is emptiness, a desolate feeling of helplessness, pressures of an imperfect communication.”

These are poems that turn back upon themselves, questioning their purpose, their value, even as they offer testimony to moments when their narrators have been struck mute by experiences of glory. “Unfocused wolf-shaped lightning / over the beach air is the sauce,” a gift, aggressively received. Even scars are read as signs, raised lines through which the body sings, conveying vision through touch. “To care: a temperature with many meanings. / I’m naming them in my hands.”

Or is that just a pretty way of putting it? “Fantasy guides emotion into questionable thinking.” The “blushed powdery light” of dawn can dull the edge of otherwise aching questions. The speakers here wander through “bus stations, unintentional / dystopian museums,” and witness slogans going dark: “All sides justified. It’s another / way to learn.” “I’m only dressed / in frail worry, stubborn hope / & a fragmented wet history,” a voice laments. Another cries out, “But what can I offer? / I have no remedy prepared / for the complicated weight on this world.”

Yet, if not a remedy, there is at least a salve, a temporary easement, an analgesic: “a dream / that won’t sleep, a country / with neutered currency,” even a recourse to instinct over contemplation, submission to that hunger “for newer places . . . & some new faces shimmering inside our bitter-lit dreams, imaginary bones & bombs of black pepper stained winter night layers.”

Perhaps the ultimate riddle here is not about feeling but about communication, the imperfection of the work in relation to the felt; the dry page’s misalignment with that which is wetly lived. “A thing like this exists unlabeled. // A thing exists but it’s not here.” What we have is something else, though, like that KJV Bible, it is an artifact, an object of power, all its own. This is a rich, multivalent book, dialogical, restless, turning over and over; a book that resists satisfaction or conclusion but, rather, asks more and more, that insatiability itself is the strongest answer to the question of how to live.

Official Terrell Jamal Terry Web Site
Official Black Lawrence Press Web Site

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