Review by Cheryl A. Townsend (email)
by Joan Jobe Smith

Liquid Paper Press, POB 4973, Austin, TX 78765. 48pps. $4.00

Life deals you a lot of shitty hands. Some times you just got to fold and wait for the next shuffle. Joan faces life with a fold and wait attitude obviously gained by her tenacious mother, who unbuckled the belt of subservience to be her own person. Learning to drive against a husband’s "Good Wives Don't Drive" (tenet?) and working for her own money to get what she wants at "The Pow Wow Cafe":

a truck stop on highway 19 in Downey,
California where the waitresses wore
short, red polka-dot skirts and low-
cut white peasant blouses that showed
half of my mother’s baba au rhum breasts.

She innocently tells us "Why Robert Wagner Married Natalie Wood" with an impish humor. She bravely recalls the last dying days at her mother's side, hallucinated on morphine and brain cancer. In "The Thousand Bats of Tujunga Canyon," she shares a troubled and pregnant past with an alcoholic husband and her "high school blue-jeans, a / belly of baby to hang through the zipper" before finally leaving him "in the blue-jeans I'd soon zip all the way." That very "belly of baby" came early and lost and "in an alley beneath / a full moon and drizzling rain, an old man / who'd been digging for trashcan bottles watching" via a "one-eyed doctor" and healthy...but not, alas, fortunate. In "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" the daughter marries a "no-good coked-out son-in-law" and fights depression while seeking any job to pay the bills she can't meet while the father of her children is "back in jail for crack"...which segues into more craziness as he later "kidnaps their baby daughter to / sell for more dope." This collective rivals Frank McCourt's life as suicide attempts plague the daughter's tragic life. Joan sits at her hospital bed while

a nurse impatient with suicide
attempts when there are those really
sick who need her comes and shakes my
daughter shouts her name as if it were
an obscenity the name I chose with
such care

and prays. Evictions, past incest, Prozac, and yet more.

Joan gives us a midway break with "Kissing The Sky" as she confesses, "I've had so many husbands it seems that Cary Grant / must’ve been one of them," and brings Robert Wagner back out and "tacked him six / feet tall...up on my kitchen wall for him to watch me / sauté onions" and "bend down any old time / he wants to to nibble on my neck." She updates us with "All My Husbands" as by now, we feel we know them too. She often mentions her sense of humor and shares it again in "Begin the Beguine" and "Aboard the Bounty" with great end lines.
Nerve Cowboy (Liquid Paper Press) holds annual chapbook contests... This is the quality you're up against. The simple fact that she survived to write this exceptional collection should impel you to buy it, if my mere saying so isn't enough.



Cheryl A Townsend is a poet that used to publish Impetus magazine & own cat's Impetuous Books in Ohio, but now writes reviews and columns for epitome magazine. The only thing that hasn't change is the color of her hair.. and that's only thanks to L'oreal.


Note: Reviews may not necessarily reflect the opinions of RATTLE's editors and staff.