Aftermath, the debut collection from New York poet Thomas March, offers a stimulating, if sober, tonic for our times. In conversation, March is verbose and intricately intellectual, which belies the labor and craft behind the diamond-sharp lyricism of his work. Citing Robert Frost, March describes poetry as a “momentary stay against confusion,” qualifying the quote with the disclaimer that poetry may be an articulation of that confusion, or, more finely still, a case for why the confusion matters in the first place.
March references his own (very early) work to point out that an exuberant childhood piece about the approach of Halloween almost instantly turned toward the holiday’s dreaded departure. “Is that a sad little boy, or is he figuring out that because things end, you need to appreciate them while they’re happening?” The poems in Aftermath lean toward the latter disposition and thus offer the kind of hope that can only be found by looking inside the eye of the storm. (Anything else would feel saccharine in dark times.) March describes feeling “especially honored that [ 2018 Word Works judge] Joan Larkin was the one who chose Aftermath for publication, because she’s a poet I admire for the intense, unsentimental self-examination in her work, and how she still makes room for acceptance and forgiveness.” This optimism through gritted teeth may explain March’s moves into playwriting and his current interdisciplinary endeavor, the series “Poetry/Cabaret” at Manhattan’s Green Room 42. “Drama seems like a more natural way to look at some inevitable, often heartbreaking, but also survivable things about interpersonal dynamics that I’m interested in.” He goes on to quote Virginia Woolf’s The Waves: “We are not simple as our friends would have us to meet their needs. Yet love is simple.”
To this end, he’s collaborating with visual artist Valerie Mendelson on the upcoming book A Good Mixer, pairing each of 33 Prohibition-era cocktail recipes with one original painting and two original poems to represent both “the inner experience” and outer self-presentation of the character we imagine drinking each cocktail.” It’s unlikely that either perspective will offer much of the rosiness generally associated with beer goggles.
Most of the stemware has shattered,
and the plates have chipped, of living
together, never replacing
anything we still had two of.
Whatever is broken or worn
I guess we kept for the having
of only one of us, one day—
so now that you’re leaving, you leave
whatever is replaceable.
Our suitcase is yours now, and mine
you can have, too—now that I have
your closet space, and all these drawers.
(I’m keeping one drawer just for you—
with bracelets from a Pride parade,
our hotel soaps and small shampoos,
a key to your old apartment,
the corks from two bottles of Veuve,
some ticket stubs, a metrocard,
your extra checkbook. All of it
remains, as if the heart were not
a reliquary of its own.)
But what will we do with the shoes?
We were sharing our shoes before
we settled our sides of the bed.
So who’s to say whose shoes are left
behind this door that has to stay
unlocked, with one of us per side?