Bipolar Cowboy, by Noah Cicero. Portland, Oregon: Lazy Fascist Press, February 2015. 124 pages. $10.95, paper.
Noah Cicero had a nervous breakdown.
Following an Adderall bender and the unraveling of a cross-continental romance, the angry young man who authored critically acclaimed existentialistic novels like The Human War, Bad Behavior, and The Insurgent, completely and nervously broke down.
Then he got himself together.
Bipolar Cowboy, this collection of confessional poems and poem-like things, is the documentation of his struggle.
Cicero takes us on a year-long journey through loneliness, heartbreak, depression, unemployment, prescription medication, text messaging, and spiritual wanderlust:
Sometimes I lie down
in the desert
trying to become
as quiet as a cactus
sometimes I wish
I could become
Cicero asks the tough questions, and he does it in a warm, matter-of-fact style that is never pretentious—like, he’s an incredibly smart guy who is also humble—like he feels more than he thinks, and Cicero feels and thinks hard:
How do you become a person?
Usually, instead of trying to get a job,
I listen to music on YouTube, instead of being
a person, I try to become the notes of the songs,
the chord structure of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”
covered by Amy Winehouse, I want to become that song, I learn
the song on guitar and strum it on my adobe porch thing,
trying to become non-human, sometimes I try to become
the taste of a Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger, I want to be
that delicious, that bad for you.
Some of the poems read like journal entries, where Cicero gets prescriptions filled at Walmart, where he checks out George Jones CDs from the public library, where he listens to Mazzy Star while driving through the Las Vegas desert, where he streams “near death experience” videos on YouTube, where he discusses dead professional wrestlers with a woman at the welfare office:
I said, “Did you hear the Ultimate Warrior died?”
She responded, “Did you know
the Ultimate Warrior could only breathe
the air of combat?”
One poem is apparently missing.
One poem is about Cicero phoning his parents and apologizing for being, what he feels is, a shitty son:
I have no hope.
I am sincerely sorry,
I could not be normal.
In any way.
One poem is about a suicidal Cicero transforming into a little kid version of himself and then being treated to an intense pep talk by Hulk Hogan:
“Hulkamaniacs don’t kill themselves because I need the energy of every little Hulkster to keep me strong, to give me the energy to bodyslam my opponents into the ground!!!”
Basically, the poems are all over the place.
They are intended to be.
This is a messy year in Cicero’s life.
He seems less angry than his novels have lead us to believe, and perhaps more reflective as well, but just as haunted, and always searching.
The work remains honest and real, and Cicero puts a lot out on the table, making Bipolar Cowboy a brave and poignant look into an artist’s mind as he struggles to exist in a world where Hulkamania is generally not the strongest force in the universe and we are all in danger of being crushed by a five hundred–pound giant hailing from parts unknown.
* * *
Brian Alan Ellis is the author of King Shit and Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty. His writing has appeared in Juked, Crossed Out, Zygote in My Coffee, Monkeybicycle, and DOGZPLOT, among other places. He currently subsists on the air of combat in Tallahassee, Florida.