An underlying current to these poems is a discussion of what it means to be different. For some speakers, the difference is being a mutant. Jackson tells familiar narratives but with a twist. “Iron Man’s Intervention, Starring the Avengers” describes the frustration of being out of the superhero suit. The speaker describes how
A man at Starbucks shoved
me during morning rush
I stumbled over chairs,
fell. With my suit–
my marvelous iron prison–
I could pop his head with a flick
of one finger. But without it,
I’m just a man lost in the city.
In other poems, the difference is skin color. The boys in “In a Conversation about Superheroes” compare notes about their favorites:
They groan when I said Storm.
She’s boring because she’s only
black. Although she has
white hair, blue eyes,
taller than a lightpost
and can control the weather,
they know I’ve picked her
for her skin alone.
The speaker’s sly, understanding, yet bitter response to their reaction speaks volumes about our contemporary conceptions about race.
The underlying narrative to these poems is a story about Stuart, a boy the narrator knew growing up, who later joined a gang and commits suicide. Jackson brilliantly layers his poems so that the comic book heroes of one poem become a representation of reality in the next, before they slip back onto the page in the third. Consider “The Family Solid,” “The Dilemma of Lois Lane,” and “Bleed.” An “S” branded into a young man’s arm becomes the “S” of Superman, who pretends he can bleed for Lois, which moves to an image written in blood on the back of a yearbook photo negative. Feelings of strangeness, indeed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lust-infused poem “Listening to Plath in Poetics.” Maybe I was drawn to this poem because I have a thing for Plath, and maybe that’s why Jackson chooses this setting. Desire drips across the page as a man contemplates the fleshy gap between a girl’s shirt and her pants: “And I would feed you a lie, / one of the little ones–the kind that turns / strangers to lovers, that turns words to poems.”
I highly recommend this collection for poetry and non-poetry readers alike.