He Cannot Find It Within Himself To Be On Any One Side: Thomas Alexander on Jeanpaul Ferro’s Essendo Morti

essendo morit

Essendo Morti—Being Dead, Jéanpaul Ferro, Goldfish Press

Providence poet and novelist Jéanpaul Ferro has created a masterpiece with his first full-length book of poetry, Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009). Written in the winter and spring of 2004, it captures a stark, brutal, and sometimes morbid post-9/11 world in which the living exist in a trance of orange and red terrorist alerts and the dead are the only ones who can remember America. Suddenly, the United States has been transformed from a concept that Ferro was once in love with to this almost intangible entity that he doesn’t even recognize anymore.

In The Book of Mary (America), Ferro’s country, positioned as the girl in the poem, has set herself up in opposition to the veneration that she once received so freely:

You and I are a million words that don’t exist yet,
startled one hour, starving for each other the next,
both of us underdeveloped in our togetherness,
cutting each other’s wrists in the kitchen sink,
blood the color Henry Miller would write it,
in a moment when we both realize there is no use lingering,
pain like God’s pain, his eyes bulging from the wars,
through the blue room you can feel it in your throat,
you tear your clothes off, hang yourself by your hands with rope,
you are the most secret thing in the world, rain on a dark child’s face,
you break me because you want all of me,
you love me because the pain is that enormous,
this is right now, tonight, yesterday, a million years in the future,
I drive in a yellow cab looking for you everywhere,
“Come,” I hear you saying; “Come,” I hear in darkness;
“People are just things,” you keep signing to me in my hand—
as though we can both just edit a lifetime full of mistakes.

Experimentation shows up throughout Essendo Morti – Being Dead not unlike the experiment that is the United States. But this United States has been taken over by Neocons and Neolibs as though they were the only ones who exist. Ferro often uses the page as a blank canvas where words, equations, and digital characters can be used to paint a vivid picture or a dream of alienation. In Election Day (Between Midnight and Dawn) he cannot find it within himself to be on any one side:

Electron in hydrogen atom,
two centrical figures,
two sides, and I’m not on either one:
|B> = b1|A1> + b2|A2>

There are other poems such as The Elementary Particles that are created so that they are both a painting and a poem. Some of these metaphysical poems are experimental to the extreme while others simply make words go up hill or push letters of snow across a page. There are other poems that are simply stunning and beautiful with the mere use of their imagery as in Watering a Post:

We were all born from the sons of pain,

an L of stars that graced the four corners
of the nighttime sky,

Helen, we called one;

she looked like a finger pointing right back at us,

Robert was another;

he looked like a lost man in the dead of winter,

The September 11th terrorist attacks play an underlining theme throughout the book. American has become this place haunted by an act of war carried out by ghosts we cannot see or attack directly—a scar that has changed the very landscape of her soul. Ferro sees these acts as something that the country cannot articulate or won’t articulate (even now). Maybe it is out of self-preservation. Maybe it is due to the fact that it is easier to look outward than it is to look in the mirror. The Hours Happened is set on September 11th, but now almost 8 years later the feeling in the United States about that day really has not changed or grown from those very first hours of destruction:

We drove out of Vendian and out into Ordovician,
The air moist and warm blowing through our hair,
New York City rising in gray vaults off on the horizon,
Abandoned dreams behind us in our rear view mirror,

We stepped all through the hot ash after reaching ground zero,
Leaving only our footprints to prove that we were there,
A part of me couldn’t grasp what had just happened,
You looked at me and said: “Can you describe all of this?”
I looked over at you and I said: “I don’t think I ever can.”

Author Michelle De Winter has recently stated that Jéanpaul Ferro is one of the great voices of his generation. Most of his work, and most of Essendo Morti – Being Dead, is topical and based on contemporary events. It is difficult to look at the death camps of North Korea or the direct aftermath of the Iraq war, but Ferro does it with both grace and dignity. Like any great poet or writer, he does not try to make the decision of what is right or wrong for you, but he reports what he has witnessed and leaves the truth of the consequences up to you in poetry that none of us will be able to forget.

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