‘Oosh Boosh’ by Shannon Burns
““small vibrating envelope/ of pearlescent lava””
Shannon Burns’s debut collection opens with a bold gesture of millennial vernacular (from “Kelly Brutal”):
You thought you found a little penis once growing out among pebbles
and sticks in your childhood yard, remember, Kelly?
And when you returned, it had gone back into the ground? Kelly, brutal.
The immediate intimacy of tone pulls the reader straight into the book’s language, opening a doorway into a collection by turns sarcastic, glib, elusive, and suddenly raw with grief and sincerity. These poems move in an ombre cascade through the landscape of these emotions, ultimately delivering the reader to a quiet space of rememberance and loss.
One of the dominant early styles is the familiar, conversational approach to the everyday word, nonetheless a few inches off from the expected. In “Prince of Persia,” for example, the speaker observes:
At dinner you feel your knees
rise to meet the underside
of the table. Says your date,
You always look sad when you’re eating.
…and a few pages later in “Futuristic City,”
Acid rain falls on me
and I have forgotten you
God now you’re dangling upside-down
out of a hovercraft and trying to kiss me. But I am,
unbelievably, still massaging my face.
I have forgotten even politeness.
The city is a bitter joke.
These views of the ordinary and the fabulous juxtaposed together create an energy, a texture, of unstable excitement—such that when the color blue begins to enter the poems, almost as if it were a character, it seems right, inevitable. “Your hand is a blue odor-/less tumbleweed. I can’t quite feel you,” says the speaker at the close of “Futuristic City.” Blue as a personification of a feeling, of grief, builds as the book unfolds. In “Blue Thing Feeling,” Burns writes in a prose block, “In life I’ve loved sun and field and pumpkin and have claimed in distress to hate blue things and have then been afraid it was a dark sin. So I have touched blue things and blessed them and have said I am sorry to them […] One way to become spooky is to send love through your hands to a blue thing.”
Blue emerges here and there amid the playfulness and the joking of the first three-quarters of the book, a reminder of something lurking beneath the surface. Sometimes it’s part of a scene:
And I’m crying because this rare, delicate blue thing that means so much
to me is blowing all over the plaza—and my parents and everyone
I love are looking at it like it’s the sky.
Elsewhere it is more active:
you can lay down
your curve in the cut of the end or guard your good love, duller
than the yard and slim as the blue that comes in the window at night.
Always, however, it is a still point in the swirling images and sarcasm of the poems surrounding it, which are themselves full of such spare, sharp observations as “this long, bright tentacle slapping the highway with light.”
The last quarter of the book abrupts to poems of loss, an excavation the book takes its time getting to and doesn’t explicitly enter until “For My Dad (Oosh Boosh),” the title poem. There is a beguiling sincerity to these grief-stricken closers, a stance oriented directly towards the pain which was only examined slant-wise in earlier poems:
He saw all these things and thought more
of me and died.
Can those who will outlive me
come forward and help me
with this cold sunny day—this idiotic yellow day—
Help me confront the sunny winter day—
Help me not close my eyes in it—
Help to keep memories apart from dreams in it—
Help me give the wild dead a nice place to live in it—
This poem—and “The Beginning”—comprise powerful moments of bereavement, distilling the motion of its predecessors into burning beams bearing down on the reader like headlights, shocking in their sudden clarity and forthrightness. They bring a stability to the collection, one which disorients and relocates both the reader and their fellow poems in a new context. The book is stronger for their final revelations. A compelling debut from a promising new poet.