Review by Sandra Knauf
INJECTING DREAMS INTO COWS
by Jessy Randall
Red Hen Press
P. O. Box 40820
Pasadena, California 91114
2012, 101 pp., $17.95
“It has poems about video games, Pippi Longstocking, and phone sex, but not all at the same time.”
—Jessy Randall, describing Injecting Dreams Into Cows
Jessy Randall’s second book of poetry does have all of the above, as well as poems on the Muppets, robots, and a dreamy verse about an imaginary lover with “leaf-strewn coat” and “bagel-studded eyes.” She’s a poet who delights in playing with and surprising her readers, and I imagine that she also has fun keeping readers guessing what she’s all about.
Is she “The Librarian” whose professed sorrow comes from…
The wrong information:
Knowing that Shirley Jackson’s mother
had an uncanny ability to find four leaf clovers
And that Shirley Jackson herself
believed she could summon particular utensils
by slamming her kitchen drawer
Or, perhaps, is she the outraged art aficionado who (ultimately and wistfully) wishes Robert Rauschenberg would steal something of hers in “A Liar and a Thief”:
Sometimes Rauschenberg says
he used the quilt because he
ran out of canvas. Sometimes
he says it was more deliberate
Either way, he stole the quilt
out of a North Carolina washing
machine from a girl he barely
knew, and never told her. He’s
a liar and a thief!
Or, is she really, underneath it all, a comic? How could she not be with a poem titled “One Day, The Ass-Talker Stopped Talking Out of His Ass”?
Of course, like all multifaceted and brilliant women artists she’s all of the above—and more. Her scope is kaleidoscopic. She treasures and shares found poems. She digs deep and uses all the emotions in the crayon box—and we love her for it. She’s the wordsmith/prankster who examines (what else?) in “Metaphors.”
A duck is like the moon
Because a kid can point at both. A house
Is like the sky: both hold things. My heart
Is like your heart because both are hearts.
Randall takes “brevity is the soul of wit” seriously in more than one of her works, including the eight word “Emergency Sexuality” and the short and sharp “They Make a Movie of Themselves.”
At times, Randall’s second collection feels like a romp (and a continuation of her first book of poetry, Days in Boyland), and it certainly is, but the poems that grab the reader emotionally are those which reveal Randall’s heart. In this collection, Randall the wit, the librarian, and the playful lover is also a mother who has stayed up all night with her young, vomiting son (“My Son, When He is Sick”) and a parent who reveals the emotional payload of “Deciding to Have a Second Child.” She’s also the wife who sees matrimony as a pairing of the strangest bedfellows ever in the poignant and hilarious “Cavewoman and the Spaceman”:
Can you believe we’ve had two children together? Asked the
caveman. The spacewoman remained silent, her helmet hiding
her expression. Milked leaked through the top of her astronaut suit.
The caveman asked if he could have the rest of the spacewoman’s
pork chop. She passed it to him and he gnawed at the bone.
Yes, there’s a miles-wide gap between these parents (as child-rearing will illuminate in any couple) but Randall softens it and renders it endearing through her humor.
Her prose poem “Why I Had Children,” wrought with tenderness and honesty and eloquence (and amazing brevity, in just four sentences), is the best poem I have read on parenthood.
Why I Had Children
Because I was reading too many books and getting too much sleep and my self-esteem was too high. Because I needed to be taken down a peg. Because I thought love was one thing and really it’s another. Because I thought I knew everything about everything and I didn’t know anything, not anything in the world.
I delight in Randall’s playfulness and her fascinations, but it’s the depth of her tender emotions that resonates with me. Probably a third of the book contains poems of this kind, and if there is one criticism of this extraordinary work it would be my own wish that Randall bring these more serious poems into a collection some day.
Sandra Knauf is the publisher of the literary garden writing magazine Greenwoman Magazine. Her work has appeared in GreenPrints, MaryJanes Farm, Colorado Gardener, and The Denver Post. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.