Review of "Fun Being Me"
"Fun Being Me"
by Jack Wiler
Fort Lee, New Jersey, 2006
Mocking the routine "how are we today?" asked hospital patients, Wiler responds, "We're fine but we are / choosing not to choose / death today / if you please." Having been diagnosed with aids four years ago, this cannot be taken as just a bit of jesting. While this isn't one of those uplifting "isn't life great" collections of poems--though it is--it isn't a poor Jack whose had a rotten bit of bad luck kind of book--which it also is.
There's the poet laughing at himself, when he considers God waking up one morning and thinking of a way to "fuck with (him) and this is what he came up with." A guy who's everybody's friend, the perfect escort, who wants the girl and whatever he can't have-- the one who once had a nice car, a home, a wife, and now has no money, no girl, and lives in a crummy room above a bar. "You'd think a Supreme Being would have better things to do." Nothing is simple in Jack's world and the more it appears so, the less it is.
Sometimes the humor is the laughing out loud kind, as when he stands outside himself and views the absurdity of his life. "It's not like you can't buy gas if you want it./ It's not like there aren't any gas stations./ Like iraq had won and we're all wearing towels."("Bitterroots." ) It's just that his car has been repossessed, his gas card canceled, and he now must take buses. And here's when this poet lets his imagination fly wondering what it would be like if Lewis and Clark took the no. 84 to Bitterroots. He's sure they'd have a gas card It would be a big car with a big radio basting loud.The poems proceed in this hilarious way, and ends with Jack finding the one good thing about riding on a bus-- "there's no radio at all."
It would seem the title, Fun Being Me, is meant to be ironic, athough the poet tells the reader, "I have no sense of irony" in the first poem, which describes what he has and hasn't. He lists what he doesn't have and then what he does: this day, with the "sun streaming in" the smell of bacon from another apartment, his dog, the sound of kids playing outside. "You couldn't buy this. / You wouldn't want to." the poem concludes. As I said, it isn't that simple, just as his simple sentence structure, what he's ostensibly talking about is and isn't what his poems are about.
Wiler meanders through his New Jersey streets, Wenonah, South Jersey, where he was raised, Jersey City, where he now lives, pointing out the people to us, like a retarded girl he sees in a park whose eyes are "filled with glory." As with most of his poems, he starts out in one place, say a park on a nice day, and ends up feeling doomed in a doomed world, watching "the same TV shows, the same wars./ Saddam Hussein./ Jews./ Atom Bombs." Yes there are "mangled children with white gloves and new dresses stacked up in / ditches in Bosnia" yet doomed or not, he's "really happy ... / happy to have this drive, happy to say hello to this wretched little mad girl." He might as well be screaming out loud--he's just happy to be alive.
A deceptively simple poem and one of the collections best poems (there are many) is "Money Honey" in which he looks out of his window over a bar, sees Manhattan, "and the river of money" he'd love to have, can smell even taste it, in fact should have it because he understands it so well. This is only where the poem starts. When he says the world runs on an engine, it "doesn't even know is there." he's getting closer to what the poem is really about. Not money, but "the way your mother's kisses felt ... / the way the sky smells before snow, it's flying fish leaping in the dawn, it's the way your girl smelled after you fucked her.." But, that isn't where this poem is really headed either. Next thing we know he becomes a salesman, to get some money to have his girl. And there's never enough, "but what the fuck, it's only money."
Getting the reader to see outside his own particular situation he says, "We're all sick in our houses." He "Pretend(s) spring is on the way." It's like when he almost convinces himself "He's like "I was before. Before he had aids, when he had a nice car and home ... Like those towers didn't fall." Only they did. Only "I'm not like I was." Then the unexpected ... "I was dead / and now I'm not." Again a poem doesn't end as expected, but takes a double turn--to mean what it both says and something unanticipated.
In response to a friend who asks him to write about his illness, he suggests that he could do it metaphorically and describe it as a winter storm, a real blizzard with worried friends, write about looking like a ghost, a skeleton. Only it wasn't a storm. This is reminiscent of William's' no ideas but in things. And that's the problem when he goes to East Brunswick High school "where he can't say Fuck ... or anything that reflects the fucking world they actually live in because that's a bad bad thing to do."
"I live in a town where you can see the stars" Wiler writes and he never forgets to look and be grateful that he can. In "Letter to My nieces On Their Birthday" he tells them the world may be fucked up, boring, but "You have to watch how ..(.it) spins and grab it / when you can / it's easy to do just what the world expects." Too many people get stuck in traffic. "We're alive. / let's act like it."
Jack Wiler tells us that he works for Acme Exterminating Company "whose business is pest control. An accidental symbol, for what he is doing --ridding his life of all the pests--or keeping them at bay, like his illness, like anything that stops him from remembering, that "every day I wake up ... it's a blessing." This is Jack Wiler taking great gulps of life."
And we should all thank the poet for these poems, for giving his this gift--his blessing.