Americana Life: Review of Lapse Americana, by Benjamin Myers

by Ruminate Magazine October 10, 2013

Review of Lapse Americana, by Benjamin Myers (New York Quarterly Books, 2013)

Unlike Mary Oliver, who explores a life lived and felt in the beauties of nature, Benjamin Myers depicts a modern, suburban kind of life in his reality-check poems. Myers is a white man in a Southern town with a father who is dead and a wife and kids and faith that are very much alive. He wonders about American things:freedom, land, and the intersection of the past with the present when the past, for those of us who are not Native Americans, has been so short in this aging “New World.”

In Lapse Americana, Myers explores his own American past through childhood memories: visits to the circus, times of helping his father in his work, the torments of school bullies, and the growth of feelings like grief and guilt. In mid-life, he prods his own heart as he sits and watches all the men who served in the military stand in church. Myers’ work moves us through time and the aging that leads to death. In “Apostrophe,” he writes to Time,

Oh, you must think it funny,
re-clothing the trees each year
before stripping them naked again:
this mockery is sick. I’m sure
Dr. Freud would tell you about it,
if you hadn’t eaten his face.

While Myers presents the hard and grotesque in this stanza, he is not partial to this style of revelation. Even among passages of death and loss, particularly the loss of his father (to whom he dedicates the book), Myers’ humor startles a smile. In “The Tardy Ones,” he describes his own confusion as a child when his parents spoke of “the late Mrs. Kelley of the late Mr. Freeman.” Misunderstanding the lingo of adults, he sees these late people as “always coming to dinner / after the soup bowls / have been taken away,” and “imagines them running after busses, / airplanes, and beautiful women.”

And Myers does not neglect other aspects of life in favor of his contemplations of death. He approaches the beginning of life as he writes about his wife breastfeeding their child, or the time he took his own daughter to the county fair. Myers addresses divorce, abandonment, racism, and religion in ways that encourage us to ponder the meaning of life and love. We watch him enter middle life with a “slight limp,” and hear him say that he plans “to cease my argument / with God about my little life.”

When the poems move further up and further in towards death, God becomes an ever more prevalent theme. In the first half of Lapse Americana, Myers allows the reader to catch glimpses of God. But in the second half, we encounter overt statements concerning the gospel. In “Good Friday At The Alamo,” Myers writes, “Somewhere outside of time we all cry out / from the dark of our mouths, Crucify Him!” Myers’ honesty about our condition, our hatred and yet longing for God, creates a tension we all feel and grapple with in our lives of faith and practice.

At first I took Myers’ approach (slowly adding God in increments) as a weak attempt to appeal to a wider audience. By the end, I realized that, in our journeys through life, God often becomes a higher priority to us as we see death crawl closer. Myers was not hiding God from the perusing atheist’s eyes. He was allowing Him to enter into his poetry the same way Myers has felt Him enter into his own life and thoughts. Slowly. Naturally. Precisely. by Elise Kimball


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