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Lil' Magdalene by Steven Charles Ross

Lil' Magdalene

by Steven Charles Ross

Publisher: 451 Publishing

Ross’ first collection of poetry reads at 70 mph—an unexpected feat for the short lyric.

Most of this journey takes place in a car, in third person. Unnumbered pages enhance the pace. The opening lines give a good sense of the book’s momentum and its emphasis on interior response to emotional events: “He got tired of holding the scrap of paper up / in the wind. / He pressed the brakes and slowed the car. / He hated that he wouldn’t let go.” Readers learn that this scrap of paper was tossed by his mother into his father’s grave—a bit of untranslated writing that holds a talismanic power: “Even now, years later, he couldn’t let go of it.” This “he” is a “professional,” driving his car into the heartland, days after a debriefing at work. Spurts of personal information appear among the descriptions of the road trip: “He loved to drive his beautiful car. / The open road. / Any road.” Along the way, he remembers war stories at bedtime and his father’s traumatic final days: “trapped in a cancer-induced, / time-warped nightmare. / Landing on Omaha Beach. / Over and over and over.” As he drives, he recollects other low and high points: a “sorority-type” he met at a party, the “superstore” that put the small-town shops out of business, a career achieved in some top-secret branch of government service. The car itself is special, his father’s “infantry blue, 1960, Chevrolet / Impala convertible.” Driving with the top down he feels “closer to America,” a patriotic sentiment that undergirds the book. “Whistling and driving” take him to “another / small apple-pie town” and to a sudden, heart-stopping crisis, “screaming into madness.” Parts of a military career spin through a brisk set of lines: “Infantry basic training. / Flash. / Airborne. / Flash. / Special Forces. / Flash. / Pathfinder. / Flash…Flash…Flash.” The rest of the story is a raging blur where violence and inevitability collide.

A cliffhanger for poetry? Why not? These road-trip musings offer a refreshing take on poetry’s form and function.