What We Ache For by Eric Morago
Reviewed by JASON THORNBERRY
Moontide Press, 2010
In a letter to his father in 1837, a young Karl Marx referred to the amorphous chaos of his own early poetry. Marx went on to other things, aware that verse composition was probably not his calling, abandoning what he considered the "broad and shapeless expressions of unnatural feeling of his work". Meanwhile, the self-conscious lyrical maneuvering of Eric Morago is riddled with the repetitive imagery of bicycles and unicycles, tongues, tattoos and teeth, Jesus, alcohol, hearts that kick, monsters and male genitalia (referred to sometimes as "junk"). "Spackle", a poem about Morago's mother, was the redeeming quality of What We Ache For.
This debut collection reminds one of an open mic night at a coffeehouse populated by baristas, contestants and a pair of students, sitting near the back, attempting to concentrate on something other than the amplified junior high school colloquialisms hurled in their direction. But referring to "Spackle" as a saving grace says little for the rest of his debut. Despite some of it having appeared in other publications, the poetry and prose more closely resembles list-making, inebrious Charles Bukowski fan worship, repeated jock exorcisms and dialogue from forgotten Quentin Tarantino films. "Smear", for example, was a lengthy description of the methods its author utilized to kill butterflies, ants, spiders and crickets, while "After This Morning" reads like a journal entry, its description of spitting toothpaste into the sink only slightly more interesting than italicized verses that circumfused the mention of his credit score in "What My Monster Wants".
The ham-fisted maltreatment of metaphor in "Delinquency" and "Cosmo Offers How To Find Mr. Right" reduced their imagery to shadow.
The protagonists in his short prose pieces receive lap dances from drag queens, get themselves pepper sprayed by angry Walgreen's employees who tattoo their knuckles and meet friends at high school reunions who've become pre-op transsexuals. The final sketch, about his mother, reads like the cumbersome, thrown away draft edits of someone trying to rewrite a William Gaddis novel, the heavy dialogue pushing the poor woman out of the way, the illness that has invaded her life somehow less important. "Permanence" reads like a transcript, every breath, every handshake, every ingredient of his mother's lemon chicken documented for posterity. Eric told me that his mother's illness was something that he attempted to properly engage through his work, "because I desire understanding, and in writing about it I hoped to achieve some clarity as to my feelings of guilt and regret. Is it fear to see her condition worsen that has me pushing her away?"
His characters trade in words such as pussy, blow job and terms like "man up", "piece of ass" and "colossally rad", as well as phrases such as "tonight I find my balls", "chatting up women comes easy to him, like breathing or masturbating", and they take the time to discuss the "inarticulate finesse" of the disabled. I found myself returning to "Spackle."
This, to me, was the lone standout of What We Ache For––the one poem that Eric composed as himself. It left me wishing for more honesty, less of the clumsy melodies of his other work. While Marx realized, as a nineteen-year-old, that he had yet to truly find his métier, Morago could move away from writing about longing for girls that walk on his emotions and he might find his own.
JASON THORNBERRY is a writer and journalist. He lives in Seattle
Swelling with adolescent piss
and vinegar, I ruptured like acne,
exploded and hurled a coffee mug
at my mother. I cannot recall why,
other than for the mad schools
of chemical fish under my skin
all frenzy and chaos—impulses
I did not understand, nor knew
how to control. My aim was off,
but the way she cried boulders
when it shattered against the wall,
I knew, even missing, I still hit her
My cheek is the curse word you love rolling
your tongue over. My earlobes, the pennies
you always take from the tray, but never leave.
My mouth, a pool you swim in, without waiting
thirty minutes after eating. My neck, the prank
call you make when bored, all creepiness and
heavy breath. My spine the last page you skip
ahead to read, before starting the last chapter.
My ribs, every mattress tag you've ever removed.
My penis is your favorite street to jaywalk across.
I'd give back every violent
moment—fill each hole with
tales of exploding child, if
it meant she'd just remember
my name. But all I can do
is speak fog in a gusty room
where words fail, and a fierce
rage returns to my body again.