Review by Mary Meriam

by Julie Kane

University of Illinois Press
1325 South Oak Street
Champaign, IL 61820-6903
ISBN 978-0-252-07140-9
2003, 88 pp., $14.95

Once upon a time, there was a powerful ruler called King Booze. Almost all the people were in thrall to King Booze, who was vicious and bloodthirsty and sucked the life out of his people. Only the most brave subjects of King Booze managed to escape his clutches. These brave souls formed little groups, but still, it wasn’t the same as being part of King Booze’s mighty nation. They were lonely.

The loneliness we get at night
by water, with a rising moon,
can’t be drowned in alcohol.

(“Halloween on the Nile”)

In Booze, there were Bartenders, who carved tattoos on the boozers. Then bloody Booze concealed pain with false beauty, and the boozers belonged by blood to the Bartenders.

I see men’s arms and want a flower
carved into them, your rose tattoo.

(“The Bartender’s Tattoo”)

Young boozers played chess with their mothers and remembered early invisible tattoos, given by their mothers, who were all Queens of King Booze.

Drifting in and out of my skin,
I heard her rattle the kitchen pots,
or thought I heard her gliding like
a queen across the checkered floor,
up the dark diagonals
of linoleum tile, and out the door

(“Chess with My Mother”)

In King Booze’s churches, the beat of the blues concealed pain with false rhythm. The boozers were seduced by Booker’s playing into thinking they were “just asleep,” and the boozers belonged by darkness to the churches of the dead, the Bars.

Who cares about the way things used to be,
except us creatures of the slime, who love
the darkness and the dead?—the Maple Leaf
with Booker playing, Maddox “just asleep.”

(“Mapleworld; or Six Flags over the Maple Leaf”)

A brave soul, Julie Kane, told the story of Booze and escape from Booze. There was a river, the Big Muddy, cutting a path through Booze, where the ashes of boozers were scattered. It was by this cold, muddy river that Kane decided to cut loose from Booze and shake herself awake.

Or the morning we gave back Everette’s ashes:
homeless alcoholic poet-prince.
A cold March wind was ruffling the water.
Wouldn’t you know, the ashes wouldn’t sink;
so someone jumped in to wrestle them under.
It hit me then: I didn’t want to die.
And so I made a choice, against my nature,
to throw my lot in with that moving line:
abstract, rational, conscious, sober—
cutting a path through human time.

(“Ode to the Big Muddy”)

Her tattoos longed for the false rhythms of Booze, and the Bartenders and the Bars. “The purpose of rhythm, it has always seemed to me, is to prolong the moment of contemplation —the moment when we are both asleep and awake, which is the one moment of creation— by hushing us with an alluring monotony, while it holds us waking by variety.” (Yeats)

I mark each sober day with a cross.
I come to joy in a season of loss.

(“The Bartender Quits Drinking”)

She’s alone and lonely. No one else is there. She tries to keep busy. No one can see her. No one notices her, outside the reach of King Booze. “What we call ‘the power of the word’ is really a pattern of words in a rhythm originating in heartbeat and footfall.” (Anne Stevenson)

I busied myself for a while collecting
a volume of my letters,
and published them six months ago,
but no one has taken notice.

(“Letter from Laura Cereta (Brescia, 1488)”)

She finds true rhythms in words. The words become poems. “Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.” (Adrienne Rich) The moon rises over Louisiana.

We do not raise a cup of wine to the quarter moon
Because this hard-won clarity has its own enchantment.

(“After Reading Po Chu-i”)

Rhythm and Booze won the 2002 National Poetry Series, selected by Maxine Kumin.


Mary Meriam’s chapbook of poems, The Countess of Flatbroke (afterword by Lillian Faderman), was published in 2006 by Modern Metrics. Her poems and essays have been published in Literary Imagination, Gay & Lesbian Review, Windy City Times, A Prairie Home Companion, and Light Quarterly, among others.

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