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Linda Lerner

Smashing Rocks and Straight as Razors
by George Wallace
Blue Light Press
Trade Paperback. 85pp., $15. 95

Imagine that you are standing on a station platform watching a train speed by. Better to jump aboard, look out the window, feel each visual thought pass, accept that you will never come this way again, and be ok with it, as Wallace both is and isn’t. This is what it feels like to begin reading Smashing Rocks and Straight as Razors. “what is wanted” he writes, “is a fixed point in the night, something steady…reliable as perfect lovers” which, as we see in several poems, doesn’t exist. (…” The Very Act of Your Eyes, Shining…”) After a perfect five-day relationship, “On the sixth day…in the middle of the night” she left, “never said good bye.” (The Highway Died….)

“A City Is Always Disappearing…” conveys a running theme in this collection and what the pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, meant when he said, all is in a constant state of flux, including ourselves. It is the only constant. “I disappear into an image of you,” the poet writes, who’s trying to memorize some aspect of a person he’s with, which ultimately fails and is more like a prayer than an actuality.

Past and present boundaries keep vanishing. He has “only to separate this curtain…look out between them…or look out this other way and the place where he spent his summer childhood days begins “slipping) through (his) hands like fog.” (This Fishing Village…) One poem-minute he’s looking at that fishing village and the next he’s seeing someone in a jungle, or watching an old man standing outside a coffee shop in the Bronx or is in the Himalayas. Images riff off each other as in a jazz improv. Maybe he wants to slow down but his train-mind can’t stop. When he does for a second, he knows, “There’s no future in it. Why he always feels so “uneasy with Autumn.”

The musicality of the poems is as important as their verbal context. “There is music in everything” Wallace writes. Strains of folk music and jazz fuse; what we hear is the sound of America.

The boundaries between himself and what’s happening in the world vanish as well: “If you touch my skin troops will come pouring out, my guts are grief…” He is America speaking, “bearing terrible news.” (Night Train Coming) In “I am Sorry Diane Di Prima,” he both apologizes and questions what went wrong with America, why “there was no revolution.” He notes all that was done “to clean things up and then we “…let the old sins back in…success for the many, fuck-all for the few.” The poem ends with three drunks pull(ing) on a young girl’s hijab and shouting Trump’s name over and over.

Thoughts of great art, which, like love “escape all reason” and momentarily resurrects his optimism. He thinks that maybe what was could come back, that “some …things that disappear (could) appear again… But then he thinks of one more poet gone, and says, “I come from nowhere and I am going nowhere.”

The emphasis, though, is on, “going,” is on change, on movement, the importance to “keep on traveling…, there are mysteries around the corner…There are possibilities and visions…stillness is okay for bedrock and gurus, but not for men.” (“A Wanderer’s Song.”) To read this collection is to take an incredible ride through one man’s America, a journey that won’t be easily forgotten.


But Rosko’s work is about survival and endurance of people, addicted or not, whose lives are not made easier by a super rich society that eludes them. There is poetry about peddling poor goods in a flea market and about work in general. One of the finest pieces in the book is “Overtime Suite” which begins:

I saw garbage gleaming in the sun
aluminum foil flattened into asphalt—
some worker’s sandwich wrapper,
a permanent part of the parking lot.
½ moon, almost 2 a.m.
at work

The poem continues through the shift, including the worker/protagonist’s finding time to sketch a poem. In Part III, is this meditation:

Redemption through work.
Addicts w/work ethics.
Artists w/work ethics.

So the poem continues:

Sweat falling off
a worker’s face,
push-broom oblivion.
solitude in yr thoughts.
a smile on pay day.
flirting w/bank tellers.

The book (amply illustrated by Angela Mark, Michael Shores, and others of Roskos’ usual graphic arts suspects) reads like a good novel; full of interesting characters and events. I think the soul of the work is expressed in a little poem called “Veterans”:

In the laundromat
lovers fold last night’s linen
like tired soldiers
folding flags.

A delightful book. Buy it.


Beach of Dreams
© Patricia Carragon Beach of Dreams