Noah Blaustein’s poetry paradoxically perceives a tone of flirting (“courting triflingly and amorously, without serious intentions,” as defined by the Random House Dictionary) and a heightened sensitivity to pain and pleasure — as in the title poem, in which he writes, “All that effort/in my late teens and twenties/to ‘hook up’/and ‘hang out.’ No one ever said anything/about hanging on to what you have. Without/love I am a noisy going/a clanging symbol.” The latter, ironically, is a Biblical allusion to Paul of Tarsus, who called life a noisy “gong” without love in the New Testament. Many of the poems in this collection repeat the pattern of brutal pain parallel to intense indulgence, as when presenting a wife’s memories of El Salvador torture and murder occurring while other men were having sex with whores in the background.
This is the reality of the vicissitudes of life described and intimated so starkly yet playfully in other verses, like “Rave On”: “’What’s it like being a new Mom? and her answer/- thin lips any teenager would kiss-Moist. Life/is incredibly moist’ And I now know/she was right…” Poems of tender, poignant expression add to the diversity of forms and images herein: in “East Bay” the narrator refers to the literary giant William James, who reminded us that anyone looking on the face of a dead parent must forever after realize that matter takes on such a special form “should make all matter sacred ever after…” a memory coming to mind in a normal family scene of making hot cocoa and s’mores are cooked on the barbecue while the baby sleeps. What an indefinable yet precious image! This reviewer loved the poem, “The Coroner in the Grove” in which the poet cites a grandfather, “So much light and freedom out there/what else can you do but screw up.” I love that,/’screw up’-/Even our mistakes have direction.” On these poems continue, clear as an up-close photograph and as amorphous as abstract art but evocative in every verse.