I Remember a Black Fog

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Cedar Sigo avoids the usual pitfalls when exploring queer identity, minority identity and a political perspective thinking progressives can work with. He isn’t trite. He is never overwrought, and he brings a kinetic ardor to every line.

Cedar Sigo’s Stranger In Town is an odd title for a writer who communicates so well, making him no stranger by the time one has finished this book. He avoids the usual pitfalls when exploring queer identity, minority identity and a political perspective thinking progressives can work with. He isn’t trite. He is never overwrought, and he brings a kinetic ardor to every line. He studied at Naropa with Anne Waldman, Alice Notley and Allen Ginsberg, and the influences show without detracting from his unique perspective, a tribute, obviously, to student and teachers.

“Seriously Underdressed’’ shows him benevolently strutting his stuff :

Acid washed
Jeans, bitten down
Fingernails, I’ve been
Uptight all
This week wishing
Invisibility ,
Scented tissue
Into flowers ,same
As ever My heart-
shaped collapsible
Locket is still
Missing & I miss
Wearing it open,
I remember a black
Fog inside to
Combed through, trapped
And willingly
Shining me on.

“Shining me on,” is the kind of line that makes a poem, swinging the reader through the fog to a gently ironic respite. The human instinct is to keep that heart’s locket open as a way of navigating the fog and this is handled with a confident charm. There’s a bit of the genie in Sigo and he handles it well.

There is also a gentleness in this collection, even when the imagery is brittle on the surface , as in :

Live At the East

These tears
bury
They have been
left out
In Hades’ sun.

Patterns in
music I once
found difficult
to distinguish

Now repeat
themselves
in fire and
kiss the ring

connecting
passages
to the black
vaults

and crowned heads
of the
coral seas, the edges
of their
collars

had onyx sealed
to amber
The dust
that we wish
to gather against.
That would flash
on me still.

The writing’s
already
tape already
revolving

with jewelry
cleaners
concentrate
Make light so
pained
No smoke
in the
lungs.

This resembles a large, intelligently used canvas, inlaid with visual and verbal tricks that challenge eye, tickle ear and suggest that the whole book can be treated as a kind of gallery opening that never shuts down, so the artist is regularly heard and seen anew.

He’s also in fine form in the title poem, suggesting the best prose of SF Noir Star Peter Plate:

I enjoy reading
signs through the fog—–

–HOTEL HUNTINGTON—
Then that evening
and all of
Fox Plaza was the same white
A permanent

stripe
on my blue bike

I raise my hood

I think there are other lost men
in surrounding blocks

alike in their thinking

“There is
no other man
to enjoy
&n            such fog
besides me.”          to wander tracks
in clear

star cut
ground
I am sorry I said
He was
Already high.

If Plate has written poems, I have not seen them, but this section of the piece—about the middle—and the rest of it have a glimmer that, like Plate, breaks and illuminates boundaries of form and the urge to seek and experience the mysteries cities offer. It should never be outgrown, though, unlike here, it can be treated with a adolescent glaze. Sigo is adult, even when he’s silly, and he is always discriminating, as in some of his prose :

Often it is the second draft of the poem I look forward to typing (in collaboration & just my own poems). The first draft is a catalogue of content, a list of everything available. The second is more a test of skill & the sounds you wish to make. You may have to sacrifice beautiful & resplendent lines in service of the skeleton.

This is persuasive not because he is breaking ground—he isn’t—but because “catalogue of content,” his acknowledgement of the importance of sound and the possibility of sacrificing the beautiful and resplendent are so finely expressed. “Resplendent,” as Sigo implies, is a large, richly resonant word that can, and in this instance does, perform the alchemy that turns prose into poetry, giving the piece a well-deserved place exactly where it is, anchoring the poems that bracket it.

Its no surprise that Sigo has collaborated with visual artists, and his poems treat the page as armature, or, as he says above, “skeleton,” bringing to mind others, most notably Charles Wright, who discuss the “bones’’ engaged in literary creation. This concept suggests Biblical dust when considering the ‘’dry bones’ of the Old Testament, co-opted with such long-lived eloquence in slave spiritual singing and later with the blues. What a ride he inspires! Teacher Ginsberg, would be enthusiastically proud, especially of such lines as :

Hesiod slept under a tree, woke up
two small waves to drown him deep
does that seem to hang together?
The first matter
of the spiritual work
is always within us
A thousand miles from home
I was crushed out
up & down the coast
always out of my Chinese skull

***
Moonlight through quizzing glass
Joe Meek
dance in slush
reduce the uncertainty the people confront
that label comes from outside

This selection, from ‘’Music for Torching,’’ shows , as Sigo does elsewhere, that he is a dancer capable of choreographic, operatic flourishes. “Dance in slush” is a coldly gorgeous, image when one ponders how quickly one must do it, without freezing or falling, much like other dangerous encounters when freezing and burning can feel similar in all their piercing subtleties. “that label comes from outside,” is an honesty that keeps the piece from being set adrift. This is a poet who has mastered the art of breathing/naming, and I feel only slightly guilty for giving away what Sigo declares at its very end : This poem includes contributions from Nathan Berlinguette and Will Yackulic. Their contributions are not noted by quotation marks, so there is nothing to disrupt Sigo’s deliberate rhythms. That’s a another example of the wise choices he makes , another reason to engage his contributions to contemporary letters and art.

Stranger In Town has multi-dimensional depth and range. It will last.


Barbara Berman is the senior Rumpus Poetry reviewer. More from this author →