There’s a transatlantic feel to this debut pamphlet with the opening and closing poems referencing Lee Harvey Oswald and other poems drawing on the influence of American TV culture, particularly cartoons. The poems are also grounded in reality. In the title poem, “his eyes didn’t telescope from their sockets,/ his boxing glove heart didn’t burst/ clean through his mouth,” and ends, “A thousand tonne weight/ didn’t pancake him into the earth./ The next day, he wasn’t seeing stars.” Real love sneaks in on you quietly and although you may start seeing things in the sharp edged and defined colour of cartoons, you’re still living the same life.
In the first poem, “For LHO,” Siegfried Baber imagines the rifle replaced by a Coca-Cola bottle acting as a prism while:
“On the street below, the President’s
motorcade crawls harmlessly out of view.
The Sun is the yawn of a great cat.
Fifty years from now, you doubt
anyone will remember this afternoon
or the rainbows you cast on the wall.”
The image of the sun as a cat echoes the Cheshire Cat from “Alice in Wonderland” whose grin lingered long after the cat disappeared. I’m not sure “harmlessly” is needed: the motorcade moving on shows readers no harm occurred. Rainbows have long been an emblem of hope. A rainbow also features in another Texas-based poem, “Texas Boy At The Funeral Of His Mother”
“We buried her on the hottest day of the year
in the rock-solid earth of Saint Augustine.
My father said a few words, thanked everyone
for coming, then vanished into the heat.
The pastor’s head evaporated. Guests drowned
in waterfalls of sweat. My brother’s shoes
turned to glue and his suit peeled at the seams.
Uncle Ned was nothing more than a baseball cap
and a pile of ash. The church roof sagged.
Distant relations got naked and searched for
a sprinkler to dance under. A stained-glass window
scattered its steaming rainbow. Holy things
made from gold or brass bubbled in the blaze.
And later, when the burnt-black flowers
drifted away, I watched the air above her grave
tremble and blur like the roof of an oven.”
Here the rainbow is scattered suggestive of broken hope. The heat-haze acts a lens which distorts the view of the grieving boy. The staccato rhythm is suggestive of someone trying to keep emotion under control. The relatives are behaving pretty much as they always do but the distortion of heat isolates the boy who observes from his pocket of grief. Readers can sense the boy trembling and his vision blurring with tears at her grave, that final symbol of his loss. There’s tenderness too in “Rabbit” where a father teaches his son to skin a rabbit, which ends
“We salvaged what was good and stuck it
in the freezer. What was left we threw away.
Except the heart – the size of a goldfish
it jiggled between wine-stained fingers,
not the fist of furious energy I imagined,
banging its pulse like a primitive drum.
But what I failed to notice that night
as I scrubbed our kitchen table clean
now seems obvious, pieced back together
by these steady, untrembling hands.”
“When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid” is an assured debut, demonstrating a range of subject matter and poetic skills, particularly in sharp observation and an ear for rhythm. The conversational tone lends an intimacy, as if the poet is telling stories to a fellow passenger on a bus or a friendly stranger in a pub, but also underlines how carefully the poems have been put together.