Thievery by Seth Abramson
The University of Akron Press. 2013; 76 pp
Reviewed by robert torres
What you cannot face
you face—that's your direction. In houses in cars
in cars that become houses
the event stage is dark.
So opens Seth Abramson's “Slowdown,” the first poem of Thievery. This poem, like the book itself, hides in obscurity while still charging forward with purpose and fear, a journey through a wild west as bleak as Cormac McCarthy's and riddled with reminders of the modern world the narrator is trying to escape. The poems early in the book gush with detail and color but offer so little plot or context that the reader begins to experience the narrator's agoraphobia first hand. In “The Woods in Concord,” Abramson writes,
if we'd wanted to whittle you into
a gun, we could have,
if we'd wanted to light you up, we
if we'd wanted to strangle you
in a crib of twigs and moss
here in the grim dark
behind your house, we could have.
By the third movement in the book, a eight-part poem titled “Chronophrenia,” the narrator is completely enveloped in the fantasy, wearing the skin of a ragman, a bear and weary traveler on a gravel road. In this setting, the narrator trades existential dread for physical terror, hiding himself in the anonymity afforded by the night and the wild country. Section I reads
The things a ragman hears after dark
he moves on from or loses
everything. Could it end badly here—
yes, right then. Spine mishandled by a man
with weathered wrists and God knows
what history . . .
By section IV, modernity begins to seep in again—a fighter jet, a loud speaker, and “then furniture, then utilities,/ then a Persian, then some space,” — with all the hostility and immediacy of Bukowski.
In juxtaposing these two realms, Abramson allows his narrator to face gently his reality. “Hello the House” crosses the streams of two worlds abruptly and beautifully.
And outside where a Jersey pine starves
a woman on a stoop holds a rope.
Back at the creek
his halter shrugs tighter around his chin
A powerful current of absurdism runs through these poems, the sense that it is the lies and fantasies we create for ourselves that give life any meaning, as explored in “The Dock Lights at Cattlepurse in the Fall,”
comes again, and once again I'm certain a boat
still in the corner of the matter
it's just being consumed by
present circumstances. And that I can live with,
Why shouldn't the narrator choose to live elsewhere? Both his present surroundings and those inside of his head are all constructions of some form or another, and in any of them he is still faced with the terror and tenderness of being human. Abramson lays bare the validity of unreality in “Ekphrasis,” writing
. . . It was something
said to a girl who knew she would die
who agreed with that assessment.
But sometimes it is important to represent a situation
not with angles of the leg or a context
but an awareness[.]