Josh Bell, No Planets Strike, Zoo Press, 2004
The pageantry of Josh Bell's No Planets Strike is one of love and pain, absurdity and terror. To wit: "War Poem." "Often we are tearful/ when we deliver them/ with our incredible weaponry,/ and when they cry it sounds/ like chandeliers, crashing through/ the trees." Or, "and when at last/ I killed them in the trees and heard/ their language, I was no longer afraid/ since each word could mean anything,/ could exit bigger than it entered me/ and blossom out like milk."
The pageantry of No Planets Strike is judged by Ramona, God, and a freshman at a major Midwestern university. To God: "I pretend to hold your hand, in the rain,/ and we are queer for each other, are we not?" Of Ramona: "Your love/ is like a bad tattoo although/ you put it on the back of my/ eye. It starts ‘Ramona' and I/ can't read the rest anymore." In other words, "this is Oxford, Iowa./ Shoot me with a gun, please."
The pageantry of No Planets Strike is a construct of repeated motifs, Ramona poems, poems to our Heavenly Father, sleeping with etcetera poems, poems recumbent, and poems retarded. It is a pageantry blooming with detail and dying of loss. To a waitress: "I am in love with how you think I don't/ exist, in love with your sweet disdain and/ the what looks like it must be a mustard stain/ on your sleeve, Cindy…Tell me a story that ends with It was all/ a dream. I'll tell you one that begins/ with a mattress swinging on a meat hook."
The swimsuit competition of this pageantry is endlessly gray, or perhaps yellow, blue, and fuchsia. "Pantoum for Houston (Director's Cut)" appears particularly stunning in evening wear. The contestants share interests: poems speaking to themselves, speaking to other poems within the collection, to other poems within the reading sphere. "A white tongue caught in a black umbrella." Mermaids. Hong Kong action cinema. The Midwest. Necrophiliacs. Scrapbooking and weaving. John Ashbery makes an appearance, both within the book and with a blurb. "Perpend: I puked mint julep/ on the badminton court."
"Remember me, like a mouth that/ opens on the dark. I'll remember you/ like a grave forgets what kills it." And so, by pageant's end, when the judges have made their decisions and tiara and sash await backstage, we have learned something. About ourselves, about God, about love. It turns out I really like hyacinths and will die in the year 2036. Not of old age, but at the hands of my merciless clone. My blood will drown a butterfly. "This is my first chapter on home forensics,/ and this is my new girlfriend, Sea-Bass." 8 billion thumbs up.