Note: This week we revive our practice of having a Sunday poetry editor, chosen from the ranks of lit mag editors, to pick a poem from a recent issue and add a comment on it. The poet J. Allynn Rosser doubles as Jill Allyn Rosser at the helm of New Ohio Review, and it is to her (with thanks for her editorial acumen and her willingness to take on this task) that we turn for the summer of 2012. -- DL
I don’t know about you, but there are times I truly can’t claim to know the first thing about me.
I mean which of me is the dominant self, the one I like or the one other people tend to like? Which is writing this? And what's the other one writing while I do it? Does dominant mean the self I recognize instantly as making my kind of mistake, which is actually what I was hoping it would do all along, or the one who covers it up? Is there some sinister or simply too-incredible fact I’ve been kept unaware of, or which I’ve refused to discover, that will explain, as in one of Kipling’s Just So Stories, all the allegedly out-of-character gestures, statements, and acts committed under my name, uttered with my lips, lifted or smashed with my hands? A fact that would explain all the times I have been certain that scenes of my life were lesser, rejected takes in a set of rushes for the real movie of my genuine life? When I have felt like my own understudy, who never gets a chance to show her stuff because the public one never gets around to literally breaking a leg? Is the one I keep under wraps in the green room of my soul going to get her revenge, and exactly when, and how? These are questions that swarm like a hive unqueened each time I reread today’s poem by Todd Boss. I have selected this poem because it haunts me, and because it is so beautifully orchestrated. Boss achieves an uncannily light balance between familiar mundanity and Twilight Zone fabulism. “That’s when/we moved to Minnesota” gets me every time: the way that matter-of-fact sentence begins on the same line as the alarming discovery. Because the parents have been living with this secret such a long time, they’re a bit weary and perfunctory in their account of the chronology, hence that tone-perfectly placed “of course” tossed into the mix when the murder is first mentioned. (Because Boss restrains his speaker from saying or thinking, "So that’s why we moved!" we hear it all the more clearly.) The recurring dream is related fairly far along in the poem -- right after he nearly pinches himself -- where it serves to remind us that this moment with the parents is extra-oneiric: the dream has reified, fulfilled itself. I admire the syntax- and diction-hop of “from out its only portal” that helps elevate the revelation to, if not Cain-and-Abel Biblical, then at least an oracular level of significance; and I love his decision to connect the final lines' same and name in the poem’s first and only rhyme. That single instance, naturally suggestive of twinning, mirroring the twin names he reads on each forearm, manages slyly to imply that the circle has completed itself, that a will has been done, that there is no going back to not-knowing. And it resonates, if 2012 will forgive me for saying so, as nothing but rhyme can.
Here is the poem by Todd Boss in its entirety, first published in New Ohio Review 10, Fall 2011:
One Day Your Parents Confess You Have a Twin
who was given up for adoption early on, when it was
clear they couldn’t manage him. It was, says your father,
the worst decision they’d ever made. (It’s you and your
parents at the kitchen table. Between you, the steam
from the teapot uncurls in a kind of breathing statuary.)
He was your inverse, your yin: When you went to sleep,
that’s when his terrorizing of everyone would begin.
He went from home to home to group home, and then
to prison, half mad, a drug-addled teen, with your name
tattooed over the veins in both forearms. "That’s when
we moved to Minnesota," says your mother, but of course
he found you here, at the end of an abbreviated sentence,
and slit your throat while you slept. This was last year.
You’ve been dead ever since. We know this must be hard
for you to hear: but you don’t exist. You’re your own twin
brother’s obsession with you. (Can it be? Instinctively,
you reach to touch yourself about the shoulders, the neck,
but everything’s … identical.) It’s like a mad dream—
yes, the recurring one you’ve had since you were a child,
in which you go from door to door, trying to trade
your life for another’s, but nobody will trade, and you go
on and on, pounding, until, impossibly, you finally find
someone willing, and you wake. Your mother reaches
through the figure of steam to lift the teapot and pour
from out its only portal a little stream into her cup, her
husband’s cup, the cup in front of you. She sets the teapot
down, and now there are four apparitions dwindling there,
silken, gesturing. One of them says, We love you the same.
But you can hardly hear them as you push up your sleeves
—one at a time—and read, and reread, your name.
I don't know Todd Boss personally, but I do know his first book was Yellowrocket (Norton, 2008) and his second collection of poems, Pitch, appeared just this year from Norton. He is also founding co-director of Motionpoems, a poetry film initiative now collaborating with major American publishers. He lives – or I suppose one of him does – in Minnesota.
See you next Sunday, dear reader, with cyber bells on.
-- Jill Allyn Rosser, Editor, New Ohio Review