A love letter, much like surgery or armed robbery, can only succeed if the perpetrator has forgotten or, better yet, unlearned, how to flinch. Katie Schmid’s forget me / hit me / let me drink great quantities of clear, evil liquor is such a love letter, one that reaches out in blind bravery to the isolated bittersweetness of the Midwest and the women who circle around—or are circled around by—manhood. It takes place in that weird middle part between what has happened and what is possible, a time someone else might call “the present.”
It’s a dreamscape, but the dream is real: the daughters gathered up to hunt the fathers, a chemical plant job where everyone knows someone dead. Schmid puts this world to the test with a series of poems about The Boys of the Midwest, five prose poems that become increasingly surreal until the fifth one appears much later on in the book. We hear first of wounds bearing happiness and pride. We hear about war and health and coronations. Then, finally, a softness.
The Boys of the Midwest court me. We leave the restaurant, where they sat uncomfortable and did not know where to put their elbows. Shyly they take my hand to help me into the car. Shyly they part the sea of empty Mountain Dew cans in the backseat and reach for me, leave their bites all over me. The Boys of the Midwest are unwashed and smell like food—as if they have been lightly battered and fried in their own grease. The Boys of the Midwest hold my hands in theirs until they begin to ache. The parking lot empties, leaving a vast ocean of tar under yellow light. It is five in the morning. A wild red fox streaks past the car, something—anything—wriggling in his mouth. Even in the dark, it is easy to tell who consumes who.
There’s a beautiful sort of rumination on the men who inhabit the world: fathers, boys, prisoners, workers, lovers, husbands. The unspoken other half to these male ideas, the daughters and girlfriends and admirers and observers and wives and so on, become the real story. In the series of Daughter Psalms that comprise a large chunk of the book’s middle, especially, we see that there are many pieces at work here. The result is the best kind of love, a complete love that gazes into another and seems to say, I can figure my life out, but first, there is the issue of you, sweet pea.
The collection ends gracefully and just like that, the narrator of the final poem flashing forward to new anxieties and problems. It’s here that we see the true face of hope: there are anxieties and problems, yes, but the newness is what matters. The future as it appears here is rich, is mundane, is only as good as you make it. It is, essentially, what the actual future is. If we are to learn one thing from this book, it’s that the only promises worth a goddamn are the simple ones.
I can say it no better than Schmid herself:
[…] and kissed the cut that became the scar that became the story