The front was sand and yellow wheat and brown horseflesh and night whistle of a train. The back was a gate unlatched onto summer – flower patches and sprinklers, blue television windows floating in the dark. Before builders poured foundations down the block, I ran there between rows of corn. Sunsets blazed or whispered and disappeared past railroad tracks at the horizon, the distance I could figure going under my own steam, the faraway I imagined growing up to find.
Lori Brack is the author of A Case for the Dead Letter Detective(Kelsay, 2021),Museum Made of Breath (Spartan Kansas City, 2018) and A Fine Place to See the Sky (The Field School, 2010). She lives on the prairie two blocks from the Garden of Eden and 14 miles from the geodetic center of North America.
This poem is from South Broadway Press’ new anthology, Dwell: Poems About Home.Purchase here.
Agnes Vojta’s full-length poetry collection, The Eden of Perhaps, finds itself welcomed into a lineage of poets existing in liminal spaces. In an early poem in the collection, What If, Vojta asks the reader “what if the answer is not here/there, either/or, but both, between, and?” In our society, plagued by othering, perfectionism, and divisiveness, Vojta’s poems continue to ask the right questions all throughout the collection.
I believe it is often the work of a poet to consider grey space. This may feel contrary to what someone thinks of when they think of a poet, self-assured and convicted, preaching their gospel or anti-sermon to an enraptured audience, but there is often more truth when a poet brings along a healthy sense of humility. Poets like John Brehm speak to and curate collections on impermanence. In a 2020 episode of the podcast Between the Covers, Pulitzer Prize recipient Natalie Diaz encourages the acknowledgement of not understanding, or even misunderstanding. Ocean Vuong, in his poem Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong shares with the reader “the most beautiful part of your body/ is where it is headed.” Many great poets have learned to walk the tight rope of transition, to balance on the line of maybe.
I was particularly stricken by Vojta’s poem, Atonement:
Sometimes I wish I belonged to a religion that practices confession.
I can walk in the forest and confess to the trees, kneel by the river and whisper to the water, stand in the field and shout to the sky – but who will pronounce me shriven?
I have to prescribe my own penance, whip my body to exhaustion to drown out the mind’s self-flagellation,
and wait for the unpromised peace.
Being raised Catholic, I am no stranger to this attitude of religious penance that Vojta brings forth in the four short stanzas of Atonement, but though she mentions at times she longs for this space of confession, she ultimately settles, or unsettles, in the uneasy space of waiting “for the unpromised peace.” Vojta’s style at times reminds me of the beloved American poet Mary Oliver. An iceberg—in the sense that often below the surface of the deceptively simple words is ten secret tons of depth. Vojta is something of an iceberg herself. In Atonement, she seems to remind us that religion may present us some feeling of closure, but where a truth lies is in understanding that no peace is promised. These are the words that could shake a world free of the imprisonment of ignorance and return us to a shared experience of unknowing.
The book is brimming with bop after bop. In Seeds of No Return, Vojta, in a kind of magic, bans “the word never” from her mind. In Accomplished Hamster, Vojta manages to turn the cute allegory of a hamster on its wheel into a dark social commentary on hopelessness. Vojta’s poems are no stranger to humor, but they wield it like a knife. In Greeting Cards They Don’t Make, Vojta stands on her soapbox to announce the world’s lack of a greeting card that appropriately states inside “I hope the bastard rots in jail.”
It seems to me that Vojta must live her life as a student to poetry, often passing through the world with dreamer’s eyes. Finding compassion in the dying words of the Mars rover, Vojta creates a beautiful eulogy for a robot in My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark. Vojta hoists a feminist fist of dissent that RBG would applaud throughout the collection, including a disruptive reworking of such classic, albeit dated, fairy tales as Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty.
What’s refreshing about Vojta’s Eden of Perhaps is that it is, in fact, a collection. The poems are in conversation with each other, coming together like a multitude of seeds in the juiciest most pungent pomegranate you’ve ever eaten, unapologetically dripping all over the blueprint of a broken society.
Having read Vojta’s poems, I find myself more willing to say “I don’t know” as I move through my daily life, and while this may sound like some kind of defeat to some, for me it’s a nice walk through the garden in an imperfect Eden that feels more real than anything that they are trying to sell us.
The Eden of Perhaps was published by Spartan Press and is available for purchase here.
It was a hot and windy Saturday morning
in mid-September and Summer was clearly
letting us know that it wasn’t quite done with us yet.
We were buying coffee and donuts and DayQuil
at a gas station just outside of St. John, Kansas
in a desperate, pre-emptive effort to circumvent our
looming collective hangovers before they really kicked in.
I was wearing all black,
doing my best shabby working-man chic /
3rd rate Tom Waits / Johnny Cash shtick: big boots
big belt buckle and paper-boy hat, rakishly angled.
Victor had more of a quaffed and groomed
punk rock / hip-hop thing going:
red Chuck Taylors, baggy jeans,
silk bowling style shirt showing his sleeves of tattoos,
a black stingy-brim and faint hint of cologne.
And John was just doing John as only John can do:
golden ringlets and big, bushy beard,
classic black-rimmed nerd glasses and Doc Marten’s
with Virgin Marys painted on them.
I suppose we must have appeared a bit exotic
and out of place to some of the locals who
came and went with their purchases that morning:
just sitting on the bench outside,
sipping our coffee, scratching away at lottery tickets,
trying to figure out our next move while
watching a lone tumble-weed drunkenly
meander its way North on US 281.
We were on the road and off the grid—
AWOL, MIA and whereabouts unknown:
three wayward, vagabond gypsy-princes of poesy,
tethered to nothing and beholden to no one,
spreading the seed of The Word wherever the wind took us…
Eventually, the girl working there came outside,
fired up a Pall Mall and asked us,
Jason Ryberg is the author of thirteen books of poetry,
six screenplays, a few short stories, a box full of folders, notebooks and scraps of paper that could one day be (loosely) construed as a novel, and, a couple of angry letters to various magazine and newspaper editors. He is currently an artist-in-residence at bothThe Prospero Institute of Disquieted P/o/e/t/i/c/sand the Osage Arts Community, and is an editorand designer at Spartan Books. His latest collection of poemsis Standing at the Intersection of Critical Mass and Event Horizon (Luchador Press, 2019). He lives part-time in Kansas City with a rooster named Little Redand a billygoat named Giuseppe and part-time somewherein the Ozarks, near the Gasconade River, where there are alsomany strange and wonderful woodland critters.