I love a book about you and I. I’m not always convinced there’s anything else. One of my favorite pigeons of love, Raul Zurita, speaks in his book, Song for His Disappeared Love, of how impossibly big you and I can mean to each other, and yet, he emphasizes over and over how you and I always seem like they are on the heart twisting brink of falling apart in their own mouths. “Now the entire universe is you and I minus you and I / After the blows ended, we moved a bit and destroyed I was / only one you felt come closer” (6). What a cloth house we all are when we try to together/two gather. I’m never sure if we’re standing up or collapsing with love. I think it is going to have to be both ways if we’re actually going to climb much of anywhere. At any given point in Thomas Patrick Levy’s book, I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone, you and I are at different distances from each other, at different points of collapsing or standing with huge love. They reek of the empowered fragility that Zurita tries to illuminate for us. Levy puts you and I in cornfield after cornfield. He puts you and I next to corn-infused products and corn-infused foods and watches you and I squirm full of kernels (Why, oh why, aren’t there more glorious poems involving the most American of foods, corn?). His you and I struggle often in the house and in the bedroom of the house before they get dropped down the front of Scarlet Johansson’s dress. His you and I wake up on an island for the third time and they smell like the different kinds of cars they ride in. You and I make strange, domestic circles around each other, they sometimes touch. They sometimes speak despite all the leafy prose swaying between them.
I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone is divided into seven individually titled sections. Throughout the seven sections, the you gently morphs and shape shifts, though it seems that it is a feminine presence changing into different (perhaps even just different shades of the same) female presence(s). “I know you are an empty dress on the floor” (Iowa, 23). The poems are paragraph shaped and vary in size. Levy would not even have to call them poems if he didn’t want to. There is a kind of blood moving inside the paragraph shaped pieces of text that feels like poetry, though, (utilizing a sense of serious play as a method of looking at the self, howling, calling out, images, images all twisted up and choked on) and read aloud, the paragraphs have a strong, sinewy rhythm. There are also breaks in line/numbers of lines in some of the paragraphs that feel thoughtfully considered and intended.
a bulletproof vest. I carry two knives. Nothing
is secure “(Hold Me Harmless, 41).
The I moves and considers its weight throughout the text mostly via its internal conflicts and concerns. It flails and worries about its desire to love hard, loves hard anyway, and remains just as unsure about its ability to do so.
a rough sweater and know that it will hurt deep
into my chest and you will hurt too, your body
crumbling” (Iowa, 21).
I don’t just like the shivers and rumbles, but how much the I seems to do so, not only out towards the world of the you, but in towards itself. The I seems as equally invested in addressing itself honestly as it does the you. When is trying to navigate for real love not this strange and hard on your lungs?
steering column. I laugh to myself, folded like
a gerbil. I touch your thigh which trembles
with your bones. I’m trying to sand this down,
dropping each telescope into the grass…” (A More Perfect Archway, 101).
The intensity of this staring creates echoes of both pain and ecstasy that flood and layer the text, water that gets sopped into the long brown carpet I sometimes imagined the voices of the book standing on. This is why this book gives us so many poems, and why when the speakers do speak, their words are done up in capitals. The spoken bits cut through all the good and bad fats of the imagination and the mind. Their bigness represents exactly how much it takes to try and speak to each other, how much it could mean if the voice did fail. “I ask you and you say NOTHING” (AMPA, 112).
What gives me pause, in other words, what I’m still working through, is the section, “Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson,” a portion of the book that was a chapbook put out by YesYes Books prior to this full version. I like pauses. I like when one part of a book forces me to reconsider how I’m digesting the whole. The presence of a Scarlett Johansson takes the unattainable you to a whole other level of unattainable-ness. She’s a celebrity, one that is, as Woody Allen says within this section, “SEXUALLY OVERWHELMING” (PDLMSJ, 57). A presence of this kind gives the reader a clarity about you that the rest of the book doesn’t feel obligated to divulge. I immediately understand something about Scarlett Johansson and “who she is,” given the magazine covers and films that utilize her image/”personality” within our culture. The reader and the I, paradoxically, understand that there is something potentially “uncrossable” about the distance between the I and Scarlett Johansson. (The lack of punctuation in this section, for some reason, even reminds me of a slack-jawed awe mouth, unable to remember how to stop and go sentences.) There’s a stripe of lightness and humor present in this section, and what Woody Allen says above (along with some other lines) convinced me that Levy is pushing the sense of play here, more than reveling in some kind nutrient lacking male gaze. What I was left with was trying to figure out what was different here, and thinking, “Is there something different here?” I thought I noticed, in the beginning of the section, that the narrator seemed more hesitant to touch this you/Scarlett. The I doesn’t rub algae into the pores of her skin, the I just says that it wants to (46). However, by the end, the distance seemed more crossable, like the I would push through whatever world or universe it encounters to try and understand and celebrate all the angles of its longing with tender yelps. “I have to take your wounded little hand outside in the hot / evening and cover it with dirt and say that sad / little prayer that ends IN THE JAIL OF YOUR ARMS” (PDLMSJ, 66) The I needs to try to see the you, every shade it may have, with every fiber its eyes have. While doing so, the I gets stuck in all the love and pain Zurita says is between you and I. The I flails to reach the you. You and I connect, they miss, they keep crawling. They grin with their broken faces.
I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone is a lovely book, one whose rows and rows I enjoyed crawling through belly first. Go and scrap yourself against it.
Carrie Lorig lives in Minneapolis, MN. She has an orange bike for legs and a shattered cheek from all the poetry. Here is a blog.