Shifting location from Louisiana to North Carolina and back, this collaborative work is drenched in dream and memory and necessarily traffics in ghosts and remembrance of things past. Indeed, the very first poem is titled “Solastalgia,” a neologism that, as opposed to nostalgia, that homesickness we experience when separated from loved ones or “home,” signals a distress that is directly connected to the home environment. Rooted in the memory of a mellifluous radio DJ, the poem concludes:
Yesterday’s splintered limbs say
don’t let this be the last memory of me
head for the trees
make an offering.
If the waves lap at the door
let us swim.
If the sky is never finished
And so the next poem, “Time Travel,” focuses on the dislocation experienced from moving from one place to another – specifically from New Orleans to Greensboro, North Carolina – with “ghosts in tow,” as the title of the third poem tells us.
“Even the porch swing was a ghost,” the fourth poem, “This Morning,” continues the thread, as if it were “trying to find the right words / to finish a last sentence.” You get the picture. Haunted. This poem concludes:
He understood the desire to perform
such a gesture, rather
than finish any sentence
and wake forever from that dream.
For “waking is like being dead,” we are told earlier in the poem.
It’s the following fifth poem, “some mornings,” that launches the title speculation. “Getting away with everything” sounds so triumphant on its face, but it’s more complicated than that. The poem ends:
it’s much simpler
to get away with everything
when getting away
with mere nothing
is no cinch.
All of this is in the first of the seven parts of the collection, the section called “opening words like floodgates.” The six sections that follow expand on the themes. It is the year that the poet turns 37. Think of Dante at the start of The Divine Comedy. He’s just turned 35. “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost,” he writes. So Cellucci/Shipman has two poems called “On the Morning of my 37th Birthday” and later, the antepenultimate poem in the book, “on my 37th year and yet another day around the sun,” in which the poet obviously feels distress, confusion, lost in the dark wood. The former begins, “I spill from a dream.”
In “getaway cars,” a poem from the third section called “Pilgrimage to the Fountain of Nothing,” a poem that is full of reminiscences of chases and escape, including “the first 9mm to the head” in a weed purchase gone wrong, the poet writes:
a raindrop gets away
with everything down
the window pane
Then quickly the poet is back into his dreams where we never get away with anything: “blame everything / get away with / the width of the margins / we sneak into / or are imprisoned in.”
Death, of course, is a factor in everybody’s life, from which you never escape, never get away with. As Kafka famously observed, “The meaning of life is that it stops.” Does death become more “real” as we age? “chronic chthonic disorder” is a poem that quickly follows “getaway cars” and is a metaphorical “getaway” to the underworld, across the mythological Styx. “Churn the Earth,” section three, begins with the death of a pet cat, Jack, and segues to the burial of the poet’s grandfather.
I remember wanting
to help haul Grandpa’s box
to its muddy hole.
I remember it felt wrong
the job was given
to his brothers alone.
I had to stand by watching
the rain churn the earth.
In the following poem, “alt burial rites,” the poet again expresses regret at not having eased a casket into its grave:
I too have been envious
(probably for my youth
or smaller stature)
from the last time
you have to help
“In the Wake of Chthonic Fires,” a poem from the fourth section, “This Never-Ending Theater,” again alludes to burial, just as, from the same section, “negative capability,” a term first used by Keats to describe a writer’s ability to accept doubts, mysteries, uncertainties, he returns to the world of dreams, writing:
but there’s some killer
deep in my dreams
sometimes he succeeds
in his war against me
The poem called “honestly,” from the sixth section, “The Dampest of Spirits,” takes us back, one more time to that phrase at the heart of the book, “getting away with everything”:
leaving new orleans
was getting away from
getting away with everything
and I know you felt now-or-never-compelled to do the same
No escape! So the poet returns, at least in thought, perhaps reluctantly, to Louisiana. Channeling the old quiz show, To Tell the Truth, the poet writes in “Will the Real Secret Agent Please Stand Up?”:
Now when I’m wishing I could slip back
into an old loneliness I’m back
in New Orleans back to the first year there
It’s a long poem, about thirteen pages, full of wonder and regret, the memories of youth mixed up with the inevitable memories of mistakes, “the treasured hours / we can’t remember / of friends and feeling / alive and fucked up / immune to / mistakes washed away in the mississippi.”
getting away with everything is at once a lyrical consideration of life and a philosophical cri de coeur.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.