Friday, April 19, 2013

Day 19: Charles Rammelkamp

Frequent 5-2 contributor and current guest editor Rammelkamp sent this entry for Day 19 of 30 Days of The 5-2. —Gerald So

A poet whose work has been featured several times here over the past year is Robert Cooperman. I’d like to take this opportunity to consider three of these poems, "Delicious Sins" from February, 2012, "Midnight Mass" from December, 2012, and "The NRA's Modest Proposal" from last month. All three display Cooperman’s wonderful sense of irony, from the adultery revenge underlying the drama in the first, in which an outraged wife destroys the bathroom murals of her husband’s lover; to the sad and bewildering Christmas Eve hypocrisy that confuses the Jewish protagonist of "Midnight Mass." Finally, the bitter, biting, Swift-like sarcasm of the last poem is nothing if not ironic.

Robert Cooperman
Violence and inhumanity alone are unremarkable, even if the details are sometimes bizarre or sensational and can make compelling reading. But to place events in the context of the contradictory impulses that drive human behavior requires insight and intelligence—and the wit to express it. For it's unclear who is really hurt by the destructive reaction of the wife in "Delicious Sins." Clearly, she is getting back at her husband by symbolically injuring the artist, with whom he has cheated on his wife. But it's the narrator (Cooperman) and his wife who feel the loss (and how many other customers?), and this irony is only reinforced by the fact that the murals decorate the walls of the restrooms, which have become "just places/to do our business and get on." Delicious? Hard to use that word with a straight face when talking about a bathroom—but wait, it's in a restaurant, right? (Wink, wink) At the heart of it all, of course, Cooperman acknowledges the temptation that assaults us all, every day, and has from the beginning of time.

In the men's room,
Robert Johnson tempted
at the Crossroads: the myth
that started modern
American music;
in the ladies': Adam,
Eve, and the Serpent.

Likewise, the irony of "Midnight Mass" is all too clear. True, you can't be too careful when a bum off then street wraps a priest in a bear-hug of love, even if it does appear to be some innocent, if misguided drunken gesture that interrupts the church service.

Three men ran up; everyone sighed
relief when the man was tossed
into the weather...

But how like the goon squad bum-rushing an undesirable this passage reads. It must occur this way to the protagonist of the piece.

Jewish and curious, Deborah always
wanted to attend a midnight mass
on that night of old, beautiful songs.

The Jewish girl, an outsider herself at the Catholic service, surely identifies with the man and offers him some coins when she leaves, even if she, too, is wary of the unpredictable fellow ("Ready to jump back as if from a mastiff") and scurries off into the night, "tortoised into her parka." The juxtaposition of Christmas with the shabby scenes of human interaction drives the poem, and echoes the ancient temptations of the snake, in the previous poem. We're built to fail.

Channeling Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" (The full title is A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents of Country, and Making Them beneficial to the Publick), Cooperman lampoons the NRA's stance on guns, in light of the massacre at the elementary school in Connecticut: if everybody has them, we'll all be safe. Cooperman makes the gun outfit appear to be ridiculous (as if it needed Cooperman's help). Armed guards in every school, teachers required to carry concealed weapons, extending God-given gun rights to children seven years of age ("Children soak//up information like gauze soaking up flesh wounds."). And he manages to conclude with the extremists' irrational loathing of President Obama and their willingness to believe every scurrilous rumor about him: "God Bless America./Unlike the current illegitimate president,//we, as Christians, really do mean it."

God bless Robert Cooperman. —Charles Rammelkamp

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