This is a hybrid book that chronicles the real journey and imagines the surreal journey of Lewis and Clark, from watching a baseball game with President Jefferson and Ozzie Smith, to the narrator having a tree sprout from his penis, complete with a red bird who wants to nest in it.
In Jim Goar’s cross-genre book, The Louisiana Purchase, a prisoner contemplates the sentence that his only guard is burdened with: the prisoner’s “release would also be his.” While that line was the one that stuck with me the most after finishing the short set of prose poetry, the collection itself never feels like a prison sentence, but rather behaves like a companion: the William Clark to one’s Meriwether Lewis (both were great men, but Meriwether is the cooler name).
This is a hybrid book that chronicles the real journey and imagines the surreal journey of Lewis and Clark, from watching a baseball game with President Jefferson and Ozzie Smith, to the narrator having a tree sprout from his penis, complete with a red bird who wants to nest in it. The strange juxtapositions in these lyrical poems reminds one of lyrics like “semen stains the mountain tops” from Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Communist Daughter;” there is beauty in the absurdity and hilarity of Goar’s book, especially when the red bird claims “squatter’s rights” on the narrator’s tree penis and ends up getting visitations on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
In the same way Goar’s unexpected combinations make the reader see the beauty in the absurd, he is also able to make the reader pause, just for a moment, and question what they are really getting into. The very first poem (or entry, perhaps) ends with “The dust like a good boy slaps his girl and Missouri gets buried.” The reader should gulp after “good boy slaps his girl” or at least loosen their top shirt button. That line is much like the National’s “Mr. November” and the lyric “I’m the great white hope.” One should stumble over that lyric as they sing along, because “great white hope” is so loaded, but after “I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders” is sung, all is forgotten. In the same way Goar makes the reader forget “good boy slaps his girl” once they read “Phil Niekro throws a ball at the sky. The ball does not return. We call it the moon.”
As much as Goar makes the reader chant yes-yes-yes and what-the-fuck, (the good kind of what-the-fuck) simultaneously, he also inspires to crack open one’s old AP U.S. History notes: “Iowa 1806”, was that was the Louisiana Purchase was called? Additionally, he sends the reader searching through baseball lore: Phil Niekro, the famous knuckle baller- did he doctor his pitches? Goar is, in some sense, who Ken Burns would be if Burns wrote poems, writing about what makes many people feel good about America, but also causing the reader to question what they really know about Iowa 1806.
Towards the end of the book, Iowa 1806 becomes an artifact itself, placed in a museum, and which a Service Man carries away at night in a shoebox, (“a shoebox, you must understand”) and utters the mantra “A flower too often smelt will wilt.” In a way Iowa 1806 is that flower, and it is heartbreaking because the shoe-boxed Iowa 1806 embodies the lands Lewis and Clark explored and what they have become today.
The book ends with academics arguing over why passageways were cut into mountains and the significance of midgets in early societies, once again exploring the beautiful absurd. Goar may be saying more about the beautiful absurd than I want to dig too far into, but the book ends with a husband “facing the salt and the shark just beyond the sea.” The husband faces the Pacific, the end of the journey for Lewis and Clark. But, Goar’s last line is “the air without them, continued to exist.” The “them” is the words that were burrowed in The Louisiana Purchase, the one placed into a shoebox. And while the words cease to exist, “the green fog that stretches from the Mississippi River to the eastern tip of Idaho” continues to be, and the reader knows that there are still stories of penis trees, dying moons, and honest one-armed women to be told.