Reading Rookland

Jun 9, 2018 | Bubbler, FSR

Review by Anniebelle Quattlebaum

My mother, though Chinese, never had patience with chopsticks. Last week, I discovered chopsticks holding the toilet seat together. With golden dragons snaking across the design, they blazed China-red against the porcelain throne in my parents’ house. The dragons were shoved into two holes, fortifying the seat to the bowl.

The day of her ingenuity was the day I picked up Jesse Minkert’s chapbook and met the people of Rookland, a kind of poetic Winesburg, Ohio. Through his poems, we get a glimpse of what types of chopsticks—grief, love, failure, jealousy, the urge to dance—hold, or don’t hold, humans together.

Minkert utilizes his background as a painter to make portraits of poems that are full of story. Each of the poems cast a spotlight on a specific citizen of Rookland. The spotlights weave together to discover all sorts of things about humanity.

This is what Galileo Books author Clyde Moneyhun was talking about in his essay, “The Politics of Thought”:  “The narrative impulse seems to come naturally to our species. From Djarkata to Oslo to El Paso, we tell stories and listen to them. Paintings on cave walls are essentially stories. The earliest religious texts are stories. The first Western poems are stories. Jokes are stories. Gossip is a story. Human life is a story.”

Minkert’s opening poem, “Feet in Both Worlds,” begins:

The crown tonight weighs heavy on Her Majesty’s white curls.
Her feet are tired, neck stiff and sore, and a paper cut
got from a page in a diplomatic document
throbs on her thumb.

There is contrast to her royalty—her personality, and her soul—her essence, but in the end, we fully attach to her humanity. She contemplates lasagna and deli rotisserie chicken. She finds comfort in a paperback. Don’t we all? What is she a Queen of? It matters not; she is royalty of language and line. Whether a nameless Queen, or a man plighted with a case of canine jealousy, or a couple using technology to create the perfect façade, Minkert’s people are bold, flawed, real, hopeless, and hopeful. Minkert writes of not just present-day-Melanie brewing tea, but generations of grandmas, and grandmas, and grandmas—each a “Club Girl”:

Her thrustulating hips and arms
thump and bump to the hip-hop queen
the way her mother did as Janis
offered up another bit of her heart,
and grandma gave Elvis
whatever he called out for

Minkert’s conversational diction pairs with his imagery to create poetry that is non-threatening yet awakening. In “Collin Washes His Hands”:

what he labors to cleanse is not this hide
more the dread that he might awaken
from his relentless conjectures of whom
he can assume will conquer him, and when.

As Moneyhun said of story, Minkert’s poems “make a kind of illogical sense to us because of the direct relation they bear to life.” Through the people of Rookland, between finding red pennies on pillows and broken roaches’ legs, the reader find pieces of herself.