Muncie, Indiana. Population: 65,287. Home of Ball State University and former home of the Ball Corporation (the people who make ball jars). East central Indiana. With the declining economy in the United States, small towns like Muncie, once hubs for manufacturing and industry, have experienced a shift in population. Instead of a base of blue collar workers, Muncie’s population has become supplemented by college students, creating a tension in once what was called “Middletown.” What do those who graduate from such places think about after four years? If twenty-somethings become “stuck” in these towns, how do their lives become defined? Drinking/Drugs. Love. Boredom.
These are things that Daniel Bailey is thinking about in east central indiana, his first e-book forthcoming from bearcreekfeed. The first three poems in the collection all have drug references: i want to smoke meth with you, meth is the mid-western drug, and i want to get drunk with you. Drinking is the cliché for poets, but Bailey is after more than self-indulgence. He doesn’t want to be alone; “i want to raise dinosaurs / from birth to death with you.” His speakers try to seduce others to share in the misery/apathy that he experiences: “you are good weather / you are rain in late august” and “i cannot possibly tell you everything i feel / and that is an amazing feeling.” The “You” is hope; “You” is so close.
Of course, if seduction doesn’t work, escape with another is the next best option in meth is a mid-western drug. Bailey tells us that “what we’ve been looking for is a hole / in which to bury these gators we call our lives.” Starting over, escaping the heaviness of a town that doesn’t have a name. But sometimes escape cannot happen, and boredom takes over, like in the poem “all my good deeds”:
for i am about to eat chuck berry’s heart
and halle berry’s heart
and dave berry’s heart
and burn up like a viking funeral
on a river of ducks
if i could shrink to the size of a pea
i would paint myself green
and write air bud screenplays
The heaviness of being in a small town drives Bailey’s speakers to strangeness, and from that boredom rises sadness: “the flames that touch my face will touch my sadness very soon / and my sadness will grow up with all ten fingers in its mouth.”
Despite these feelings of melancholy, Bailey’s speakers do, by accident or not, find beauty and humor in the situations they find themselves in. In poem for the trying, the speaker notes that, “[his/her] teeth are always little moons orbiting [his/her] tongue.” And in the next poem, we went downtown, that speaker notes that, “we were like a buttgrab at a funeral.” The strangeness of small town life doesn’t end alone in an apartment drinking or doing drugs, but it follows Bailey’s speakers everywhere they go.
east central indiana isn’t just Muncie. It’s Moorhead. It’s Fargo. Miles from the big cities where there’s always something fun to. Bailey’s speakers find solace in temporary escape – getting drunk and thinking about the unanswerable questions in life. Revelation does some for some of these people, as well as a sense of strangeness that can never be quite shaken off. Small towners only need to ask themselves one question to be east central indiana: “what is the cornfield singing tonight?”
Nathan Logan is a MFA candidate at Minnesota State University Moorhead and the editor of the online poetry magazine Spooky Boyfriend. Some of his work has appeared in: Literary Tonic, No Posit, Robot Melon, The Scrambler, The Subterranean Quarterly, and Superficial Flesh.