by Nicholas Nichols
“If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, / we lessen the importance of their deprivation.” - Jack Gilbert
“I'm just livin' life for a living (I just do what I'm here for, you know)”- Johnny Venus from EARTHGANG
What Joshua Bennett excels in are the epic moments that allude us daily: a kids pick-up game of football, a microscopic creature destined to live, and the candy we’ve all snuck at one point. All of life’s little miracles are Bennett tools to remind us of wonder, but always in respect to the fragility of life and it’s obstacles. Where does the mind go in such crucial moments? Maybe too much is going on in any given moment to describe it adequately. But we have our memories, poems, fables at our disposal to encase the moment and share. Bennet writes of the mundane like Morrison, elusive and in admiration for what does not die easily. Pardlo being an influence does not surprise me, as both poets seem to strip the past of its daunting luster to leave bare a poem for our pleasure.
Speaking of pleasure, I’d draw our collective attention to Trash:
…& this is how it will always be: the pendulum’s oscillation from delight to absolute danger, our irreducible human tenderness not so much an obstruction
as the entire point of the exercise…
In part one of the broad responsibilities of parenthood is making sure the kid does not die. The child does not know fear because the limits of their humanity are as explored as the ease of language to explain death to someone to whom life is so new. Our first encounter with Trashis a reminder of how fragile the body is and how the romance of a being knocked down is necessary for the triumph of surviving. Whose body is being knocked down, but that of a young Black boy. Once the game is over the Black boy will still be in “oscillation from delight to absolute danger”, but unlike the world outside of a child’s game of football protected by rules and honor, the Black boy has a chance of getting back up from a blow that lifts them into the sky and turns so many into ghosts.
…cannot shake my adoration for the way you hold fast to that which is so swiftly torn from all else living,…
An excerpt Bennet’s Ode to the Tardigrade that’s imprinted a level of jealousy that I believe was intended. Bennett reveals to us a sweet marvel that is the Tardigrade a.k.a “little water bears” creatures that have marveled scientists for years of their inability or refusal to die. Bennett’s tone remains in adoration, but I can’t help but also feel a bit of jealousy. What if we could replicate the science in these “little water bears” with that of the Black boy we’ve previously met in Trash? They would never have to worry of death, but they would be robbed of the exhilaration that a bodies untimely flight can sometimes bring. Why would anyone marvel at a creatures innate talent of eluding death, if not for having to elude death on the daily? Bennet once again takes a small marvel, and I’m filled with awe. Who knew that another metaphor for Blackness was a Tardigrade…Joshua knew.
…solitary arms in our war against the invisible wall our parents built to bar the world of dreams.
Bennet then takes the childlike moment and jettisons it into adulthood. The candied arms are prone to backfire on the gluttonous child; walls were erected to keep the young and vulnerable safe; and the world isn’t the innocent adventure as they imagined. Bennett once again uses the fleeting moments that have passed as a reminder of how fast a thing can change abruptly, much like a metaphor. In this iteration of Trash, we’re met with the conflict between children and parents, but it means so much more. The candies represent the small ways one copes with the reality of their deprivation and too much of the delight could kill “Body & soul, / to cite the old wisdom.”, as Bennett puts it. Then revelations happen much later, hindsight is forgiving that way, that the mothers' attempts were based in love and care. As I mentioned earlier, a broad part of parenthood is making sure the kid does not die, everything else is a bonus. The mother figures love was confused for joyless tyranny, and the kids revolted, as children will do. The arch of the poem is that love is ever-present because the dangers of the world are always present; actually, that’s the through-line of these poems. There is always some pervasive danger lurking around the corner, but it’s our responsibility to look back and clamor to what joy we can. This is what Bennet was trying to get across, and I’m truly grateful for the reminder.