Review by Ess Wagner
The Man Suit
by Zachary Schomburg
Black Ocean, 2007
I haven’t been sleeping well lately, for many reasons, so be forewarned this might get weird. Thankfully, reading some of Zachary Schomburg’s The Man Suit a bit each day made me feel like I at least slept enough to dream. His dark, surrealist, often recurring images follow a playful logic throughout the book; I felt like the floating coffin from the book’s cover had scooped me up to drift from poem to poem, like a (more) uncomfortable version of It’s a Small World, or a more grown-up version of Alice in Wonderland. Well, you get it.
In the first poem of the two-poem series “What I Found in the Forest,” the scene before the man turns in on itself again and again:
I found a group
of inappropriately dressed
a hollowed-out tree.
They all had hidden agendas.
When I asked Marlene
her name, she told me Madeline.
When I asked why
they were in a hollowed-out tree,
all of them became
who told me to stop
talking as she handed me
some beautiful flowers.
I found a group
of beautifully arranged
trees flowering inside
a hollowed-out woman.
They all seemed to be deciduous.
When I climbed the smallest one
it bent underneath my weight.
When I climbed the strongest one,
I could see forever.
But what I saw
was a dark forest of hollowed-
The beginning and ending of each section draw on the same pool of subconscious imagery, but dissected and reassembled. The pair of sections taken together remind me of a Jacob’s ladder: you can start in either orientation, watch it all tumble downward, and end up in the same place. And the movement is entrancing.
The whole book is steeped in a dark atmosphere, and every poem feels set at nighttime; but the truly peculiar thing is how none of the poems, despite their grotesqueness, feel like a nightmare. There’s something eerily calm in the world of The Man Suit. Maybe it’s because the poems happen around the reader-as-observer, sometimes reader-as-receiver-of-dream-instructions: “The white telephone is an instrument of death. Do not answer the white telephone.”
Or maybe the weird calm stems from the sincerity of each poem and the collection as a whole, like in “The Things That Surround Us”:
When you asked me if I was an island, I told you that I was not. When you asked me to join you in the drawing room, I told you that I could not, that I was in fact an island and I couldn’t join anyone.
Saddened, you revealed to me that you were not the two things that jut outward into the sea as I had assumed, but the little bit of gray sea between them.
Then I told you that I’m the entire Arctic Ocean sometimes.
It’s an intimate moment where a bit of the speaker’s conscious mind bleeds into his subconscious, and you can see a real relationship, or event, or connection, falter. Surrealists all let you into their dreamscape, but not all of them make you feel as welcome as Schomburg. Part of why I enjoy surrealist art (literary or visual) is because it’s surprisingly relatable and open to a vast array of readings. And being let into the subconscious of the speaker and willfully entering requires a level of trust to be established between reader and speaker. There’s one series in particular where this trust comes to the forefront, pictorially titled “Black Telephone, White Telephone.” I’ll just leave you with one excerpt:
The black telephone is owned by a man with no limbs and no voice box and no ears and no brain. There is no need to dial up the black telephone.
The white telephone is God. There are only a handful of people with the telephone number. Its ring is infinitely loud. This is what killed the dinosaurs.
Everything in The Man Suit is true and real and mine for my subconscious to do with what it pleases.
* * *
Dark and Stormy
by Aaron Krol, resident mixologist
Ess chose the drink this time, and it’s a good one. If you’ve never had a Dark and Stormy, the ginger is as much a sensation as a flavor. Despite the name, it’s not an imposing drink; in fact it’s very inviting, no matter how much it tries to cloak itself in darkness.
2 oz. dark rum
3 oz. ginger beer, or to taste
Pour first the rum, then the ginger beer, into a highball glass with ice. Stir gently to mix. Just to lend a little mixological perspective to Ess’s excellent choice: some people like to add lime to a Dark and Stormy. I approve of that, but don’t go overboard; you’ll want one wedge of lime, squeezed gently over the drink and dropped in. To me, the brand of ginger beer matters much more than the brand of rum. A lot of ginger beers have a heavy dose of pineapple in them, which tends to ruin the spirited shock of a Dark and Stormy. Fever Tree and Barritts are very nice brands for this drink.