- a look at the posthumous volume of poems Divina is Divina by Jack Wiler ( Cavankerry Press )
Even at their darkest, most disparate and desperate levels Jack Wiler’s poetry gives us, through their sheer force and honesty, a sense of hope and relief, albeit through a lens sometimes clouded by the immense pain felt through equally intense, personal experiences filtered through what can only be called true black humor in all its shadings. Life itself as Wiler might put it is a comedy of errors that oft times creates real hardships and tragedy, however through this prism of outright nitty gritty despair these poems manage to fill us up rather than drain us, give to us rather than take from us. They never make us flounder or feel confused and due to their uncanny straight-fowardness rarely need decoding. Wiler’s knack is to un-complicate the complicated making us feel uneasy yet relaxed with such forces as death, love, friendship, loyalty, and vermin. He shows us that it’s ok to experiment with one’s own life as long as one is willing to face the ultimate consequences which, in his case, was contracting AIDS and eventually dying from that ravaging disease after a long battle.
I met Jack quite awhile ago and he looked like death warmed over, something he freely admitted. He struggled for many years managed through all adversity to maintain as normal a life as possible. In his case having a straight job as an exterminator ( if one can call that normal ) even being featured in a major t.v. film about rats while all the time pouring out poems and a play about his life and the lives of those around him. Always reminding us that the world is not a safe place and that we could be exterminated at any time… “We found the body about two hundred feet up the ravine…” “… the Angel of Death… I know he could come visit me at any moment.” Wiler tells us his life … “is priceless…” and that he’s “paid dearly for it.” And I feel by this he means all our lives.
He talks about rotten teeth and about his beloved city New York (even though he’s a Jersey boy). In the title poem Divina is Divina we hear about Divina, the transsexual whose given name is Hector, brought home one day by Jack’s long time companion Johanna, whose given name is Marko, herself a transsexual and a firm presence in this volume… Divina “fading into the world…” dying anonymously, quietly alone, isolated by his/her choices yet never giving them up. It’s almost an incantatory when Wyler states “Hector is Divina because the flowers bloom / ….because she is /… we are / … the sun is … / Because we die…/ Because / Because” A recurring theme of this book, the choices we make and how they affect us in positive, negative and most assuredly life – altering ways.
In a moment of classical near comical despair Jack intones … “O woe! / O horrible patience. / Give me rest or money. Give me spring. / Let the girl at least glance / back one time on this / terrible ride.”
And in moments of absolute tenderness, poignancy, pathos and desolation, he states in “Love Poem at the beginning of Summer” … “ This is a love poem about empty places…/This is a love poem for you… / This is a love poem without you in it. / Like every love poem should be. / … a poem that won’t let me forget./ Everything in the world is asking about you. ”
As seriously as he took his work, Jack made fun of himself and made light of all the heaviness that life brings down upon us and the stupidity of the risks he took that ultimately killed him something you immediately grasp as you read this last will and testament which may make you too, as Jack might put it, only want to live, live, live until you die and as he so succinctly summed it up it what might be called his poetic epitaph: “The Hardest Poem a Man Can Write” :
“Here lies Jack
Dumb as a stick
and flat on his back.
Couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.
Now there’s worms in his mouth.
Thought he’d live forever.
Oops he was wrong.
I’m with you all the way on that one Jack.
Living inside this book, hearing and watching Wiler wrestle the demons with an almost righteous indignation, is indeed almost like living in that room in Bunuel’s film, The Exterminating Angel, filled with strangers and friends all waiting for who knows what, only to finally discover they are all waiting for the same thing, good ole Mr. Death or some other angel perhaps, to scoop them up, whisk them away or perhaps play poker with. “… The purpose of angels is to help us deal with another life.” while our purpose, for the most part is, “always hungry” to wait “for the master to bring us food ” as we “Watch, listen, taste, smell, eat, breathe, sleep, rise, work.”, the angels or devils always there, always “hungry for conversation.” And these poems are always reminding us how hungry we are. How some of us think we are invincible. How much we need, want, crave, in order to survive until we succumb.
This singular in-your-face voice, a voice of reason ultimately too hard to reason with, will be a difficult act to follow and one that will sorely be missed.