In Nate Logan and JJ Rowan’s chapbook mcmxciv (Shirt Pocket Press, 2018), alienation is explored through geography or the lack of geography. As Logan generously told me, the number of the title translates to 1994, I began to notice references to the past such as answering machines, the popularity of AOL, and patrons in a bar who say “brewski.”
These are sonnets but the romance lies in repeated words such as “beep beep beep” or “please please please.” Displayed in tight vertical rectangles, the numbered order of the sonnets is jangled like imagined time travel itself. There are references to the internet and zeros and ones, but the technology is in the background, a gray shadowy monster coming for us all, as stated in the first sonnet, “x”:
projection puts me in a dark bar where
the air is falling tenderly against
technology’s faux romantic whir.
Logan and Rowan contemplate technology but also their emotional distance from it. In sonnet “xxi,” the speaker pronounces:
i’m having numeral anxiety to
which the internet is a bad
bandaid. the administration
claims i is in my toolbag but
they could just as easily buy
that from aol…here’s something
taped to my skin to simulate healthcare.
The internet might be a band aid, but according to Logan and Rowan, we take what we can to survive. And we mostly fail. As pronounced in “xv”:
“it’s like i’m blind to numbers” is a thing
i’d envy if I hadn’t already cut up this
timeline…try counting to learn about failure.
try numbering pages to learn about sex. try
counting backward to the baseball diamond…
One sonnet depicts walking across old bridges and broken sidewalks and Kafka postcards and poets holding onto books; the next page explores foreign numbers that make the speaker feel “tense in my gut” and yearn for a “calculating machine.” We want our buttons pressed, but no one does it right. As mechanical as Logan and Rowan’s speakers’ pretend to be, they are “hungry in the dark dark dark dark sea.”
In sonnet number “xli,” pixels are mentioned but when the speaker writes, “i’m inclined to lay down in the midst of construction, where i might feel my bones leak calcium into a parking meter ticking down slowly from 10,” the 1995 Radiohead music video “Just” comes to mind. In the video a man lays down on the sidewalk in a busy city. People come up to him and ask him what’s wrong and try to help him. He whispers something in their ear and then seconds later, they, too, are laying down on the sidewalk. If the internet is a “virus,” that contaminates us all, perhaps we are all counting down to a secret number that only we know. How long until we alienate ourselves? How long until we connect?
At moments in the collection, nature is positioned as antithesis to the loneliness created by machinery. Take sonnet “xiii,” for example:
…tie me to my own bones
or don’t tie me at all: the story of
the i-95 corridor. the first sunrise
happens at an unmarked rock…
take me there with your charged
heart and let me live in the ground
…show this midwesterner how
best to meet the exploding sun.
This poem asks, How do we best live in the world? Things break and mend and repeat, always. Our environments create a cycle of despair and loneliness. Our connection to each other can raft us along, but at the end of the day, “i live in a fishbowl castle but the fishbowl castle lives in me.”
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens lives in Midwest and is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Your Best Asset is a White Lace Dress (Yellow Chair Press, 2016), The Messenger is Already Dead (Stalking Horse Press, 2017), We’re Going to Need a Higher Fence, which tied for first place in the 2017 Lit Fest Book Competition, and The Vitamix and the Murder of Crows is forthcoming in 2018. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She is also the author of 10 chapbooks. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Pinch, Prelude, Cleaver, Yalobusha Review, decomp, and Inter/rupture. Visit her website.