In Tom Will’s You, the Viewer at Home, Moon a totaled car looks like a praying mantis, love-making sounds like a string of pearls dragged down the road, and someone breathes Diesel light. It is a book of textual oddities, effortless in its fluctuation of consciousness and shifting points of view. Associations proliferate, questions deepen. Time, distance, and matter cave in on each other through skilled, innovative uses of language. These verbal events seem taken direct from the author’s head, lifted out and placed in a book, as easy as that. Words that describe thought as foliage describes wind.
There are prose poems that multiply line by line as if they had minds of their own, in prose that might have been thumbed into a phone and texted to oneself. The poem “Cocktail” appears to lack the intermediary process requiring notebook drafts and editorial proofs. It contains enjambed phrases spliced to grammatically incongruent, though related, other phrases—would-be cut-ups, had they not been so deliberately arranged:
If Dali were alive today he’d be pulled
over for a beater Mitsubishi Eclipse full of maraschino cher-
ries our new century is red and sweet and falling into small
hands not suited to cherry holding.
Dali’s Mitsubishi Eclipse, a fitting model, crammed with maraschino cherries, is pulled over in the scarlet penumbra of absurd coherence, a full stop expected before the pronoun our, a pithy and strange remark anticipated by Dali, but no, we’re in a sweet new century fallen into unsuitable hands, it is unclear whose. The poem continues with the same flavor and color, but the superabundant language pours out in a new direction:
Proud commune maidens
carrying breastfuls of syrup cherries in their blouses skirts and
between breasts. The men wade into vats of cherries the men
like sundials under a red sun the cherries like virgins bleeding
virgin syrup. Cherries aborted and kept in jars a mockery with-
out context. Satanists shave their faces and receive the Euchar-
ist for black cherry masses mockery with far too much context.
“Cocktail“ is monochrome red. Syrup cherries, vats of cherries, virgins bleeding virgin syrup, aborted fetus cherries, Satanists doing rituals that too much resemble the ceremonial language of their Christian adversaries. We could think of this as an homage to Rothko if it wasn’t so figurative and varied, if it wasn’t a surging drunken delirium siphoning the winelogged verbal performances of Rabelais, those grotesque interpenetrating tableau in which sounds, images, and ideas churn, metamorphoses and metaphors swallow each other, spawning anew.
The moon fills up with itself and empties each month. It too is grotesque in its constant renewal. Will understands this and draws images and ideas from the moon’s simultaneous distance and presence, its many phases, its resemblance to other things, its correspondence to planetary time, and mysterious influence over human affairs. The moon image orders these poems (explicitly, implicitly, cryptically) into a satellite system with its own velocities, occlusions, and conjunctions. It has a signature parallax, when ideas and images recede into the background and appear to go backwards. Interconnected moments shift in relation to one another in a cerebral concert of spheres. So it is fitting, then, that in the first poem, “Decourous,” when the book is set in motion, the motion is a binary orbit:
My poetry will have the same fixtures as the rooms of my thoughts
A mansion with many rooms; rooms for each
Of me to walk around with rooms to
Walk around me
The rooms are moons. The moons are attentive readers transmitting through the poet’s active mind. The poet’s mind is a satellite system of images and their attendant ideas. The mansion rooms of Will’s thoughts are the imagined grandiose impossible that exists. They are spatial areas in which active verbs are done and that do active verbs. They are where his poetry happens. They are his poetry, its objects and volumes and acoustics.
In the section titled “Moons,” metamorphosis and metaphor saturate the moon image. They are poems for many moons and the moons are many things. A moon like dirty snow, like a Fentanyl patch, stolen by a nurse off a cancer patient’s shoulder and the nurse is chewing it like gum. There is a burglar moon, intruding on the poet’s mansion: “The new moon stole the full moon from my safe, from my bedroom mansion’s safe.” There is a man in the moon and his “mustache tastes of cigarettes.” In “Irregular Anna Taylor-Joy Moon Sonnet,” “clouds move behind the half moon” and “Leather Moon” appears from behind some dark matter:
The Leather Clad Objects
In My House
Each A Slide
For Slide Projectors
Learn that you know less than you thought you knew, it seems to say. Words and the objects they denote are clad in form-fitting darkness (Moonless Nights; Leather Shadows), suggesting that some things are only ever private. They are slides projected inwards. In “You, the Viewer at Home, Moon,” a singular nocturnal moment, mysterious, affecting, is shared with the moon, if it is shared with anybody:
A night so quiet I can hear death’s traffic
far off into death’s stadium its vuvuzelas half a mile off its
drums and brave sections that I should walk towards you in.
This moment is the moon’s alone and the moon is you. The second person point of view collapses a presumed distance and a compound identity forms. Or identity multiplies, as in “Cockroach on the Moon”:
A cockroach in the grass seems happier than a cockroach
on the moon; but nobody asked them to be everywhere.
Not one single married couple sees their dust in the hon-
eymoon suite’s nightlight.
Nobody sees them as the villa’s tiled roof; or antennae flecks
The cockroach is in the grass, on the moon, in the honeymoon suite; it could be anywhere and is disparate things, a villa’s tiled roof, flecks of stucco. These images move in parallax back through the text as we continue forward, remembering “June, Once”:
The luna moth is on a
White square column
Is breathing with slow
Is like Frank O’hara said:
“We are breathing
Between each other”
Moth and me
Moon and you
Loon and June
Another insect, an earlier poet, the likening of one thing to another not by appearance but by sound, with rhyme. Rhyming is a rudimentary feature of poetry, phonologically giving the sense that two separate things belong together and are “breathing / Between each other” like newlyweds in their honeymoon suite.
Turns of phrase, dream logic frozen in lunar light—weird associations, native to the poet’s mind. Even if you’re not a poet, Will’s work might help you think like one. For example, I imagine the earlier mentioned “death’s stadium” and think of “Plane Crash,” another poem in the collection where death figures. This poem seems to nest amid death’s stadium. Death circumambulates the airliner’s black box that is the Kaaba:
The black box
Is a black cube
Walked around by death
Like a Mecca
Is this another binary orbit? The rooms (moons) of the mansion that the poet walks around that walk around the poet? Or is it something different? The technique is similar, but not exactly the same. No longer about the lively imagination of a creative person, it addresses the ultimate concern: death. Death is a constant presence in our lives and the final fact of life, it walks around us as we circle towards it. The poem “Diesel” reads: “I am a confidant to all particles isolated in death’s round chambers.” Impact craters, gun barrels, light at the end of the tunnel like the pale disc of the moon. Tom Will is the moon and you are the moon and the moon is always there as Moon—idea, image, confidant—in the here and hereafter, to accompany our strangest moments and remain in our compiled absence.
You, the Viewer at Home, Moon, by Tom Will. Maximus Books, 2022. 82 pages. $15.99, paper.
Dustin Cole is the author of the novel Notice (Nightwood Editions) and the poetry chapbook Dream Peripheries (General Delivery). He has also contributed writing to Apocalypse Confidential, Maximus Magazine, BC BookWorld, Heavy Feather Review, and British Columbia Review.