Kids of the Black Hole
Trembling Pillow Press, 2017
Paperback, 67 pages
Reviewed by Evan Gray
Tim Early is right when he says, “Marty Cain is a new galactic animal” in his book Kids of the Black Hole. His hybrid coat of feathers and fur is bathed in punk rock, metal, old skate ramps, and the gym shower, as well as the toxic landscape of memory that is both lichen-drenched and cut with light. Night terrors shimmer off the page with each long line, each breath, each shift in the wet dirt.
Cain’s experiment is a long poem formally reminiscent of the inviting and haunting spills Frank Stanford unloads through The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. Both poets engage with form in ways that seem as personal as a relationship with land. Focusing here on Vermont as opposed to the Ozarks, readers are called to take on a new shape, evolve even, toward the same feral instincts the “I” devours via the countless anaphoric device.
I rot on the outside & incubate bodies
they call me the sider with the dead-leg twitch
I was doing the cockroach in garbage bins
I was hood-up asleep by the library homeless
O I swell & verily unhatch the gate
for my vibrant body I want to leave it
for I know the purity of water burials (3)
Howling outward into a void, the speaker leaves readers at a place of uncertainty and desperation clouded by logical practicality: “I dreamed I was a nightwalker // I dreamed I was face down in some mud in the woods /I dreamed I was a cat floating dead in a brook” (9). To linger on the actuality of these lines would be counter-intuitive to what the poem is in search of, as they are not only a recount of memory-based discernments, but a gathering of possibilities that lead to the production of identity for Cain. Stringing together these moments or accumulating destructive subject matter— “I filled u-p-p-u-u-u-u-u-u-h pages”—is not only an insight into the poetic composition of Kids, but also an unleashing of a Stanfordian flood, consisting of a variety of narratives that lead the speaker toward the whole self. (17).
Cain’s self becomes an opening of all things: what’s locked away in evergreen flora, and what’s artifice. These moments of reality are linked by their proximity (and violence) to the spatial and psychological self:
BLESS ALL THE RESONANT UNTETHERED THINGS
BLESS ALL THE UNHINGED YELLOW HORRORS WITH FEATHERED WINGS
SPROUTING FROM THE SHOULDERBLADES EVERY BLESSED SECOND
& THE BROOK SHIRNKS TO THE SIZE OF A THREAD I WANT TO BE
THE SOLITARY MASS & SMASH MY HOLY SKULL
ON THE ROCK & WAKE UP A NEW A LUMP A HOLE (32).
With the yearning newness or awakening, the self considers the existential adolescence just as throbbing and painful as the physical decay itself. Change becomes a product of necessary process, a peeling away at life where prosperity appears camouflaged in beaconed forms of violence: the once “HOLY” is rotted by circumstance and forced toward the mind’s no-man’s-land. But remarkably, Cain protrudes a self that is both an object and instrument of measure—a holey but whole tool with precise emotional and logical faculties—where moments in time are funneled through nature, coating the voice of the speaker, but giving a portrait of what is, and always is, at stake:
O every blessèd day I feel a gun to my skull
O every day when I’m against the wall
I want to exhume my voice from the back of my throat
I want to raise it up from the base of the well
& let my corpus rot at the bottom
allow my spirit to bellow loud (39)
The poem’s lines, the way we see them, are constructed with a certain “current” or motion themselves. Building off each other, undercutting each conjured vision and metaphor, or strutted in symbols and anaphora itself, we descend, tethered to Cain by language, into the deepest parts of the water-drenched earth. Frank Stanford: “It wasn’t a dream / it was a flood.” We become lost in the familiarity of scarred woods where posted signs of masculine impulses hang, but this ridged self-awareness does not come without cost.
In many ways, Kids of the Black Hole is an almanac of sacrifices: the ones we choose to inhabit by spotlighting the “infinite chasm”—gazing directly into the constructed and constructing foundations on which we are given (5). Either we decide to burrow in these places or perch atop them in our wildness. And Cain, like all good poets, chooses to be a visionary: he pleads to see the self here, now, and beyond.
Evan Gray is the author of the chapbook Blindspot (The Rest (Garden-Door Press, 2017) and a graduate of UNCW’s MFA program. His work has been featured in Word For/Word, Yalobusha Review, Inter rupture, Dream Pop Press, and others. Gray currently lives and works in Wilmington, NC.