by Jack Christian
Center for Literary Publishing, 2012
57 pages / $16.95 buy from Amazon
1. On the inside of most of my books, I often write down the date and place I acquired the book or where I was when I started reading it or who gave it to me or what state of mind I was in at the time. Some kind of carving goes into the tree. Maybe it’s indulgent, this insisting on making my DNA / my curry stains present and part of. It makes me think of K holding the door open for me and saying, “I’m not sure nostalgia is as bad as we think it is.” This book, Jack Christian’s Family System, has two pieces of handwriting in it. It says, on the very first possible page, “Boston, MA, 2013. Given to you. You were drunk.” On the next page is Jack’s signature.
2. A text message received while I was at a goodbye party: “Everything becomes important so quickly. Being around my parents has made me feel so young again.”
3. While I was in the basement of the Cantab Lounge in Boston, I fluctuated myself to younger and in the middle of a few years ago. I was in Asia reading this line from Christian’s poem, “Northampton Ectastic,” for the first time somehow (?) on Gregory Lawless’ blog in an apartment that leaked karaoke at me from all directions late at night. “The chickens I’m to meet in weather unapproachable.” I read this line and crawled out the window with some some raisins shoved in my mouth. I handed my body dumb to the nearest Kimchi pot about to go underground.
4. “My agitated arms grow knotted.
The term to describe this is inextricable.”
-New Revised Standard
The third years in my MFA program recently finished their thesis defenses / presentations. A lot of them wrote about their families. Inevitably, not all of it was / is happy. At every defense, there was some innocuous chatter about whether or not family had attended, whether or not we would have asked our family to come if the thesis being presented was our thesis, if we (the first and second years) were going to invite our family to our defenses. What we would say and what we wouldn’t.
5. “We’re in a giant mom and and dad linked by a heart.
We’re going round in circles in the figure eight”
We are galaxy on galaxy on galaxy. (“You think they resemble a galaxy spinning, / but to them you think it’s like being inside two plants / joined at the stalk.”-FS) The last minute of Men in Black is RIGHT. The disorientation of this intimacy of blood. Do we ever know if we are further away or getting closer?
Is it clear to us how we are RELATED to our families exactly? Or is it always changing? My friend, A, sees a picture of my mother and says I look just like her. I reply, “Really?” in a voice that people often mistake for my mother’s on the phone.
“This is the myth of retrospective cohesion.”
-Eight Monks in Unison.
6. “None were flyover people,
nor were they reincarnations, nor stories with beginnings, muddles
and James, who was strangely present, Emma or not,
accepted in that time and place. Vanessa.”
When I turned the book over to see who blurbed, I saw Tomaz Salamun and nodded. I’ve been reading On the Tracks of Wild Game (a wine, a whirlwind) on and off and again and again for maybe six months. I can’t really bear to bring it back to library. Brandon Shimoda wrote a stunning piece at the Volta about Salamun’s blazing use of names in his books. According to Shimoda, Salamun and Christian (according to me) are doing an interesting thing in that they are showing us the systems (the picture of the subdivision from way high up on the front of Family System) surrounding and filling out not just the person, but the “citizen” living a “free country life.”
7. I initially balked at these terms Shimoda chooses to use to talk about Salamun / a poet documenting LIFE. They make me see uniforms a little too tight. They make me feel a little lifeless (life less). However, they’re the right ones (terms from a different way high up / aerial perspective), not only because their part of our first-world reality here in America (and the forgetting we like to do re: what our country is and does to other countries), but because of the way that allows the naming of names to come alive, to rupture us towards richness in spite of the system, which both depletes those names and makes those names possibly networked. There are people here being things / being beings to each other. These are people going beyond the requirements, which breaks the system. It is breaking the system is continually having / failing to adapt to.
8. A Public is a vehicle by which we are transported.”
9. Here’s Shimoda:
“One characteristic of Tomaž’s work I find fascinating is the constant naming of people—family members, friends, lovers, acquaintances, heroes, poets, artists, politicians, villains—that seems partly not able to be helped: a both conscious and unconscious uttering of names emerging from a true exuberance for being in relation to PEOPLE. Tomaž intones the names of those who populate his poems’ and books’ unfolding free country-life; his intoning, to my ears, anoints the people as both beloved and legend, and within it I begin to hear a nation, or maybe, the dissolution of all nations in the citizens of a free country-life. But they are more than either situational or ecstatic intonations (as if that alone was deficient); they are recollections of the EARTH and the startled, shimmering CLOCK FACES passing upon it…Tomaž makes people PHENOMENAL.”
10. Christian allows the the I of the book to give us a stream of people, mothers and friends and farmers and writers and cousins and peopleIhavenoideawhotheyare hovering in the planet Virginia, that glow PHENOMENAL on the elastic floors of the poems. Where Christian deviates from Salamun lies within the urgency of the tone deployed by the narrating voice. Salamun’s I, in On the Tracks of Wild Game, gives us a dizzy hula hooping afflicted with hives. The voice of Christian’s I exudes a tone that is steadier and absorbent, though perhaps no more or less reliable. “The city came by for the trash. / I found a science of imaginary solutions, which was a good thing” (Responsibility). It is not a voice indifferent to being caught in an orbit of people and place with a poetic tongue, but it accepts or replicates the rhythms and paces of the persistent oscillation orbits have as a way of engaging with observation that pulls the I closer, than backs it away. The steadiness allows the illogical to leak in, to rub, but not roughly. It becomes part of the system, how it perpetuates, but re-forms it into a system that can be unpredictable.
11. It’s raining, but Matt says, that isn’t rain.
You make tea with it
or it gets to you. It’s an antelope.”
12. “He is our uncle, who grew tall,
and has stood for the decade since he gave up the church
and became the hoop at the end of the driveway.”
-Poem of My Hope
13. Typing out the word PHENOMENAL makes me look up the definition of ‘Phenomenology.’ Phenomenology, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (LOVE YOU INTERNET) is “the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.”
14. Family System is aware that it is attempting to process its own processes of being aware, the systems of sensory organization it brushes against, while creating meaning or recognizing the meaningful. It is interested in how many awarenesses (spatial awareness, temporal awareness, linguistic awareness, self-awareness, etc.) are at play here, how they affect the I’s experience of phenomena (the names, the objects, the events).
15. Nets cast because they exist
and we are where we walk, strong as cans,
extolled by night. I paint a boat to display the night
and to take us to it. This piece is ours;
is no scheme of cognizance.”
-I Am Yours
Of course the writing and the book are absolutely a scheme of cognizance because the choice to poetry has been made and the sentences pour out and attend to the phenomena as such. Of course it isn’t….because poetry. At its best, poetry feels nothing like a scheme and everything like a scheme and also like a loving reveal coming out a beach towel that still smells like an ocean you don’t live near.
16. “Hell Is Fire Heaven Is Cake” is a poem I hope you take outside with you. Walk around and read it out loud while the streetlight quits against a tree that finally has leaves on it.
“I could hear the echoes of smitten children.
I could hear their birdsong imitation.
I was wrapped in a fraying blanket.
I was holstering a bad revolver.”
17. As soon as I finished reading this poem outside on the stairs, I began reciting to myself a part of “The Singing Knives” by Frank Stanford that is my favorite part.
“I saw the red moon too
I wished I was running a trot line
I wished I was in a fight
I wished I was fanning myself in church
But there was a heart on the fan
With a switchblade through it”
18. I remember exactly where I was when I first read that poem, too. I was the train, receding.
19. There is a sweat here in both these poems that is a rhythm that is body tensed and flexed and maybe in fear and maybe about to contain how a place works on us. (Again, it wonders how we might be related to it, how it relates to us.) Our blood in every hill.
20. “Virginians remember Virginia was a threshold of a giant realm
was a table.
Around it, friends smiled, got weird, got married.
Friends held bouquets. They brought their hogs and donkeys.
Some built houses. Some dressed in period garb.
Some shot each other.”
21. “The farm cat stalls, approaching”
22. “Christian is an ace reporter of [family’s] rituals and paradoxes,” says Elizabeth Willis, again, on the back of the book. I think of this particular quote at the airport. I am about to get on a plane. I called people who do not live here with me in Minneapolis because I still felt compelled to say goodbye. I promise to call them again when I arrive safely.
23. “Given the apartment theory of dimensions
we could say, “Fuck it,” or we could gather the proof
necessary to believe in everything no one can see.”
24. “And those by circumlocution then.
Or, gathered otherwise. Can you draw it. Can he drive it.
Was it seen like our own hand. And how was the ceremony.”
-Gothic Peoples Institute
25. A list of many of the circles/circulatory/measured spaces/mechanized spaces present in Family System: “constellation,” “a smaller arch passed under a bigger one,” “I who trace a line then stands on every point of it at once,” “Where there’s a hoop and hadn’t been,” “a crank is spitting gold bits,” “In their Willie Nelson 1970s holding pattern,” “mud puddle,” “a nest of cub-ghosts,” “graffiti, and in circles around us,” “you made a map from a barbed wire,” “my great-grandfather was all short-circuited,” “chant,” “concatenation,” “In the circle, I made the dog move,” “The circle drawn of necessity,” “we hope it does make an appearance as a trail to you,” “he visits planetariums,” “the distance between stadiums,” “I arranged my bones in a pleasing figure,” “In the yard a tarn is growing,” “the patterns of branches,” “it’s a satellite,” “I could name all the peaks from the helpful diagram,” “the fuzz has filleted the equilibrium in our eyes,” “we loom in rain,” “And often on the perimeter of thought on a knotted street,” “Where to go round again,” “Were they a bird’s nest.”