about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of critical study The Aliites: Race and Law in the Religions of Noble Drew Ali (University of Chicago Press, 2019), novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011), chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008).

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The Street Medic
A Review of The Street Medic
by Joe Amaral

Spencer Dew

These are poems from the perspective of a street medic who lets the job get to him. The suicides, the overdoses, the car crashes: “I see incipience and aftermath,” he says, but he also sees the “bits of flesh [dead bodies leave] behind / the way dough hardens on granite,” the cold water over the pale corpse, doused on “by well-meaning friends who / tried to avoid dialing 9-1-1.” He sees the eyes of dead children, like sea glass he gathers at the beach with his own children. The narrator feels such scenes and becomes them, in a Whitman-esque identification: “I am a floating rib, a punctured lung.” The fate of the other—their pain, their fragility, their utter materiality (“...a shark-bitten man / the Coast Guard dragged in, // his thigh torn open, separating / hip bone from leg bone”—hurts on its own, of course, but also has implications for the witness, who sees his own mortality. Even when slightly high on the “power” of first response, the narrator here knows that while he can rescue people from death, he can’t do it forever—they will all die again, and for keeps. This is the gallows point of view he carries with him, “home / crushed / by a / 48-hour shift / on ninety minutes / of broken sleep” where he kisses his children, knowing that they, too, will die. Intimacy with death is presented here as the opposite of intimacy, a deeper and more blunt unknowing, a wisdom that recognizes the unknowability of death. “I keep dinosaur stickers for kids / in a different pocket than the switchblade,” but what comfort can either give? Death here is the result of intentional effort or carelessness or those activities described as “habitually accidental,” but also just plain bum luck. In this last sense, we are all like the driver texting in the storm, the poet, too, who writes “In extremis” and sees something that resembles sea-smoothed glass, but faces the unspeakable, and puts hands on it, in it, staunching—at least temporarily—or stepping back and studying the bloodless surfaces of what was once human, before looking away, before texting another dispatch from and of this storm.

Official Joe Amaral Web Site
Official Palooka Press Web Site

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