By Karen Corinne Herceg
Anton Yakovlev writes with a nuanced sensibility and finely spun sensitivity that almost belie the impact and depth of the messages contained in each poem of his subtle but powerful new collection “Ordinary Impalers.” We are all truly “impalers”…not the larger-than life-monsters of history, the murderers, genocidal maniacs and infamous abusers, but each one of us who impale ourselves and one another each day in multiple ways that, in the aggregate, are no different energetically from what we perceive as larger transgressions.
In the opening poem, “Scapegoat Cemetery,” the narrator is “Clutching at gravestones for balance,” (P. 9, l. 1), a balance that puts him literally and metaphorically between reality and lost hope, seeking to blame the ancestor who never took responsibility for passing along the wounds and anger he has inherited. The damage he recalls emphasizes the desire for a better memory, of a distinction between what we wish for versus what truly occurred. And rage and outrage are completely justifiable responses for the ineptitude and lack of character we display in our interactions with one another. “The Submarine” describes a visit to an apparent tourist attraction that symbolizes our ability to submerge and resurface, a constant disappearance lost in “a few syllables” (P. 10, l. 3) as the narrator walks with his father in the shadow of his grandfather whose sins and legacy are palpable despite no physical presence: “There are orphans everywhere,/even those with parents alive,” (P. 10, ll. 8-9). The unhealed wounds disallow connection and reconciliation. Holidays, traditional observances and meaningless conversations are “useless homecomings” (p. 10, l. 22) and mere distractions. There are collections of images and fragments of interactions but nothing exchanged authentically between father and son. We rely on empty omens and conjured symbolic comforts as “Our controversial angels take us/into the Hallmark wolf packs,” (“Cliffhanger,” P. 13, l. 9). We create “terraces of abstraction” (“A Stop Sign Worn as a Helmet,” P. 20, l. 14). We search for meaning in disparate images and moments that ultimately elude us.
Yakovlev employs imaginative ways to convey meaning through an unexpected use of words that create greater, multiple impact as in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” when he observes of a long-time relationship what is unrecognizable, forgotten or never acknowledged, “I could ask you questions to make you figure it out,/make you Sherlock your way to the only reasonable conclusion,” (P. 15, ll. 1-2) that is the irony of fearing the loss of what never existed. The use of the proper name Sherlock as a verb is fine-spun but jarring, almost humorous in an introspective manner.
In “The Immigrant” we see time passing without meaning, issues without resolution and words used to obfuscate meaning instead of avenues to true comprehension. There is a plea for deeper contact when the poet commands, “Stop fidgeting with your kaleidoscope./Hold a hand, say hi, have dessert.” (P. 16, ll. 19-20). He is speaking to various people in these poems, to the many relationships in which he has tried to reach out for something authentic only to find that the other’s “ghost has solidified.” (“Frog Pond,” P. 19, l. 21). We do not know what we are even looking for and so are completely lost:
Before you meet again,
Look for ravens on abandoned rocks
Until you realize they are not the point. (P. 21, ll. 23-25)
We are absent from the present and unhealed from past traumas and grief. Yet Yakovlev actually offers a solution to healing in an unexpected but authentic manner:
A rusted ship might float again someday,
If you are nice enough to the bacteria
That captain it from now on. (P. 22, ll. 16-18)
We must acknowledge and delve into those “bacteria” in order to excavate truth, clean out the wounds and not cover them up to fester beneath the oppression of blame and guilt. Instead we allow the losses to accrue and break us. We marginalize the authentic and are prey to the illusionary.
In “The Jogger” we witness the portrait of a marriage as an exercise in perfunctory living amid external actions that do not constitute true depth and continuity in a relationship. Yakovlev describes the beginning of the marriage as “an incensed gallery/of old New England pumpkins, candles in antique stores,/afternoon trips to vegetable farms.” (P. 25, ll. 11-13), and then quickly adds “but only autumn could sustain that kind of enchantment./Quickly he grew to see the void in all other seasons” (P. 25, ll. 14-15). He is asking us to see what we substitute for real kinship and interaction. There is “the invisible lock in the double door of all ears” (P. 35, l. 20), and in the book’s title poem, “Ordinary Impalers,” he states, “so pretend we can cheer each other,/even if it’s Russian Roulette we play.” (P. 38, ll. 7-8). In the final poem, “The Lingering Portal,” we see a doorway of possibility of “cathartic/hopes” (P. 50, ll. 4-5) once more thwarted by the past and unhealed memories that again cause us to lose our balance “and go to sleep” (P. 50, l. 19).
There are so many fine expressions in these poems that one could quote many lines from each piece as Yakovlev is careful and sparing with language, getting to the heart of things without sentimentality, unnecessary embellishment or overstatement. He explores the many ways we fail to reach one another, to connect and find our way to a clearer reality. He doesn’t negate possibility but rather addresses the realities of where most of us remain stuck and distant from one another and ourselves. There is a roadmap to healing within these wise poems if the reader takes advantage of the opportunity.
Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, reviews and essays. A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with renowned writers Philip Schultz, David Ignatow, John Ashbery and William Packard. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose by Nirala Publications (2017). She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.