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Silver by Jason McCall

Main Street Rag Publishing, 2012

Review by Jeremy Benson

 

In the Second Punic War, the slim armies of Rome forced Hannibal, and what was left of his Alp-climbing war elephants and siege engines, into waiting and scrambling, slashing and burning—Hannibal’s resources and pride dwindled, and the countryside turned to ash.

Ash—Fraxinus excelsior—it is said, is the type of tree which connects the Nine Worlds, in Norse mythology. Each day, like a secret club of 4th grade boys at recess, the gods—Odin, Frigg, Thor, Freyr, et cetera—meet at the tree, known as Yggdrasil, to discuss important matters. Their agenda might include how to punish Loki for pretending to be a woman, again, and who will die by whose hand at the Ragnarök—which is not so much an apocalypse, an end of things, but a violent rush to hit the reset button, and circle on back to the basics.

From “An Egg of Myrhh,”

I dreamt last night about reaching the end
 of the world. Everything was smooth and quiet.
You were there. We sat together
and watched firebirds cross the sky.
We couldn’t decide if we loved them
more because they rose or because they fell.

Think about all the myths in which a hero enters the fire, encounters the edge, is tossed into the cage. That’s a gimme—see Joseph Campbell with any questions. We are constantly reinventing ourselves, dying and rebirthing, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre.” Heavens, we call a sexual climax le petite mort; the walk of shame our resurrection. A climax: the turning point. What goes up must come down, and it will rise again. Sing the Hold Steady, “Yeah damn right we’ll rise again.” Life requires a fall, many falls.

It was a “leg drop finisher,” delivered to Randy Savage on July 7, 1996, that turned Hulk Hogan away from World Champion Wrestling and toward Hollywood Hulk Hogan and the New World Order, “making men cry /when he turned in his red and yellow for black and white.” (“The Visible Light of Dead Galaxies.”) Even the Huckster, from time to time, has to slough off old skin.

From “To Fade,”

I have a hard time finding my birthmark
these days. I might be getting darker;
the mark might be lighter.
It has nothing to do with the science
of skin, but I feel like I’m losing
some part of myself.

When held long enough, the book gets heavy. A reader begins to collect the pieces and, inserting them along the rising and falling action, maps the reality behind the poetry. It’s amazing how tightly intimate and honest the references to ancient myths and modern wrestling can be in the hands of an adept writer.

Silver is Jason McCall’s first book, and it has everything to do with seconds. A second son, a second life, a second Punic War, a second-place medal—a less-precious metal. It sees the sun, but it sympathizes with the moon, and with the chrome rope fringe of clouds spun by Frigg herself. It deserves a read, and a second.

 

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