By Janae Green
“I once moved to a house so old
I was unequal to living there.
I was hungry for two years, even while eating.
My foot was just long enough
to not touch the past.”
—From “Stronger than Dirt,” by James Gendron
For weeks all I thought about was pulsating waves; sex boats penetrating water: mouth-shape tight, and mouth-shape wider and mouth-shape wider, like water gulping water. James Gendron’s Sexual Boats (Sex Boats) from Octopus Books is steamy—your breath won’t fog the windows (and the water isn’t as dirty as it seems)—but it does rock back and forth quite a bit.
Forget the hot bubble bath the title suggests because Gendron’s prose works more as a black guffaw, as if to say: bend over and let me show you. Six chapters of poetry swallow his first collection, but just as “[p]oetry/is easy: you write whatever you want,” Gendron likes to backwash. His reoccurring title, ‘Sex Boats’ makes some waves, but the waters are at times tepid. The poet wants to almost abandon the reader in the shallow end, but when he’s deep, he’s very deep: “Sometimes I think the wind/is cute, then it destroys a town.”
Rather than peeling the flesh, the steam in Gendron’s poetry is more like a burning: the scar is internal. It can be both ghastly and haunting, but the intimacy is important. That’s the kind of poetry that shakes you from your bunk. My favorite piece in his collection, “Does the Hospital Deserve my Love?” does just that:
“A green car broke my friend. I saw her in the ICU. The x-rays revealed
that her skeleton was male. That’s why she can no longer walk.
As an exercise, I lie down in the hallway and sleep. I begin to feel
a certain warmth toward the hospital, but nothing I would
characterize as love.
Exercise two: I’m wearing a sick person’s body as a suit.”
Gendron often reflects the past as something current, or always with us and it is rightfully so. It’s eerie how the door opens and shuts on its own, isn’t it? You can give credit to the whirring fans and open windows, but it’s almost like someone is always in the room with you. As his narrator describes in “Shade,” the familiar always lives within us: “I swear: when you leave me alone./every part of my body/is having its own nightmare.” If you row the Sexual Boat be diligent about it.The poetry here can be worthwhile, but your arms may ache once you reach the waterfall.
Janae Green is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She keeps a blog of her short prose and projects here.