Monday, February 1, 2016

Introducing LITTLE ANODYNES by Jon Pineda

Oliver de la Paz introduces Little Anodynes by Jon Pineda
(The University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC, 2015)

All These Broken Witnesses: Jon Pineda's Little Anodynes

            Over the past ten years Jon Pineda has been writing poems of aching grace. Intimately he draws the reader into the embrace of his language, at once quiet and tender, then suddenly surging with the arresting violence of a childhood marred by intolerance, loneliness, and regret. I use the term "embrace" because there is a persistence on the idea that touch, either tender or terrible, is a means towards human understanding. Memory and the pain of loss are at the core of his poetic dilemmas, starting with Birth Mark and continuing with The Translator's Diary. In each of those earlier works, Pineda attempts to reconcile the death of his sister, the tyranny of coming-of-age, and the responsibility of fatherhood. Through it all, Pineda clearly works within the most difficult of mediums—the complex and distinctly individualized space of human suffering. Through his poetic endeavor to bridge the differences between us, the past collapses into moments of wisdom and understanding, consoling us through their beauty.

            The poems in his latest collection, Little Anodynes, are a continuation of Jon Pineda's generous, meditative, and immediate genius. Like the title of the book, derived from Emily Dickinson's "Poem 536," the poems within bring us salves from our suffering. The poems are written in breathless ribbons of prose-verse, where moments from youth collapse into epiphanies fired from the synapses. In the first poem of the book, "First concert," the speaker describes the experience of attending his first concert, declaring:
                                    . .  . I
want to believe I was
learning something about
the world on the car ride
home   my friend & I
punched each other we
didn't know how to feel so
we took it out on one
another . . .

And in the adrenalized first understandings of the world, the small surges of pain delivered by fists are akin to the first articulations of self. The understanding of what it means to be in one's skin, the bruises left behind. Later, the boy encounters his sister, before her tragic automobile accident, awaiting his return from the concert, and an older speaker, thinks back on this small moment:
                        . . . in another
year a car accident would
take away this version of
her sometimes I like to go
back to this brief moment
in the hallway the two of us
there sharing what we both
knew & would never know

From this vantage point, the speaker's mind, turning and turning in on itself in unpunctuated and breathless ribbons of reverie. This is the bruise that will not heal. That will never heal. And in looking back at this small eruption of memory, the versions of the self are ghostly images spliced into an ever-turning reel of film.

            In a later poem, "Spectators," Pineda again finds the place where the boy in the process of understanding himself encounters the extravagant beauty of the world and its conflicts. This time, the older speaker is watching a Miguel Cotto versus Manny Pacquiao boxing match with his son and they are delighting in the ballet of violence:
. . . we hit play on the DVR &
mapped how Pacquiao's
gloves pressed into the
statistics they would taking
their place in the fate of the
other boxer's face Man we
whispered in unison on cue. . .

Both father and son interject "Man," framing themselves within the violence of Pacquiao's pinpoint jabs--their own masculinities in full display as the bodies of two men collide in a violent spectacle. They both seem to delight in Cotto's pummeling until the poem's end when the speaker again enters to reframe the moment:
. . . I let the match go
on though only fast
forwarding to spots where
Cotto fell the fighter's own
son finally escorted away
from the ring ours tapping
his spoon like a bell

Cotto's son pleading for the fight's end while being pulled away from the ring, marks the speaker as culpable in a theater of brutality to which there is no salve, save the father's own recognition of this human dilemma. Like the previous poem, the past is gathered and then reorganized into a single image that remains within the frame—a still-point amid the ever-moving currents of the speaker's remembrances.

            And like the juxtaposition of a father and a son witnessing the spectacle of a boxing match, the speaker later bears witness to the aftermath of a friend's suicide in the title poem, "Little anodynes." In the poem, the speaker is teaching his son to ride a bicycle as the recollection of a friend who has passed is the apparition that haunts this idyllic moment:
                        . . . later
the night sky will appear
& always will  have my
friend still studying the thin
small mouth of a barrel
the cold beauty of it  One
by one the stars go out—
a world no longer held
within language  I should
have looked away stared
at the trees & listened for
signs of joy as he rode off
it would make a better
story but I chase after him
Don't let me go
he says laughing when
I realize I already have

Like the poems mentioned before this one, physical contact—touch—is the tether between the present and the past. The brutality of a boxing match, the playful jabs between young boys, even the steadying guidance of a father's hand on a son's bicycle—all are gestures in a journey towards a profound intimacy between the speaker and the reader. From the resulting intersection, skin on skin, memory on memory, and sentence sliding into sentence, we find, as Frost writes, "momentary stay[s] against confusion." Within "[these] little anodynes/that deaden suffering" we find ourselves, ever reaching for someone else--someone who may be right next to you or someone from our deep paths. Regardless of the distance, in Little Anodynes, Jon Pineda's resolute and lyrical language traverse the spectrum of human conditions and ease our lonely and troubled selves into the possibility of joy.


Information about Oliver de la Paz is available at his website.

No comments:

Post a Comment