Manhattan Man (and Other Poems) by Jack Lynch
(Reed and Quill Press, New York, NY, 2008)
"Unreconciled differences: Hope and Acceptance in the poetry of Jack Lynch”
Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man (and Other Poems) offers a glimpse into everyday lives of people in places both familiar and mystifying. Each poem offers a different footprint shaped by poetic form, and we are invited to “Follow.” Through poetics, we step into the shoes of the poet, creeping when he creeps, breathing deep or shallow as we are led through open doors or invited to peer behind gently cracked spaces long enough to experience a moment in time. Sometimes we observe; sometimes we hope for a miracle.
Yet, behind every closed door is a source of light, inspiration, or hope. As we venture beyond what is familiar, we are encouraged to savor the moments but then move on. There are times of inspiration and celebration, soul-searching and angst, and always doors “opening and closing”: “An entrance gate, /no more than my body/opening to you; /an exit gate/no more than my mind/closing on you….” As the speaker in “An Entrance Gate” insists on “gates,/no more/just you and me/opening and closing,” he introduces the concept of duality, reflected in a willingness to enter but reluctance to leave.
The poetry in Manhattan Man (and Other Poems) can be celebrated for its rapt attention to nature and city life juxtaposed and its commanding respect for dualities in life. The poet seeks no reconciliation or explanation of differences, accepting all experience as equally meaningful. But as we follow a path of lived experiences, we discover that sometimes, there are no answers, only questions. Through poetic form, we are shushed as we observe two sea otters “splash, toss/ and spin in the sea; /...float, turn/ and flip.” Poetic form reveals quiet observation from a tentative speaker who is clearly in unfamiliar territory. The speaker inquires, “why can’t we take/ on their curiosity, / explore, find secret paths, / hide in the water/and leap into joy?”
But some questions are more subtle as indicated in the poem, “To Anita”: “Sometimes after your drinking nights, /you’re like a zombie moving/through the morning playing a role/to every soul you see.” Emily Dickinson puts it another way: “The Soul has bandaged moments.” As we follow the progression expressed by speakers in the collection of poems, secrets are revealed through poetic form. In the poem, “To Anita,” we must open the door, whereas in “Janeen,” the door is cracked gently:
but there was a dark key
that few knew
because you could balance them:
the simple and the rich
the stable and the unstable…
As we follow the mind of the poet, we are led past secrets into a realm of inquiry where hope for answers and fear of the unknown are juxtaposed. Curiosity remains, but as we approach the unknowable, we are faced with acceptance:
The upper body tilted in
a question—the eyes
lost their luster
The wine that brought you joy
now brought you poison—
your escape was gone…
An observer and voyeur of sorts, the speaker beckons us to experience dual worlds—real and ideal: “Follow me” beyond “openings” and “closings.” As on a quest to know more than we should, we follow an illusive visage “like a thief…down the narrow streets of snow” and into quiet vestibules where the speaker reveals: “I watched her longingly; /wanted to feel what she felt beneath the shadow of stones.” The speaker lingers for a while but experiences emptiness when suddenly she disappears. He hopes to know and understand but recognizes a dynamic interaction between acceptance and hope--impressions of the way things are and what they might become.
As we follow, the angst created by dual forces juxtaposed becomes more apparent: “more candid/than Candide/more dauntless/than Dante//more real/ than words/and therefore// never ideal…//less real/than the night/and therefore/always ideal.”
Yet there is a search for meaning, balance, or reconciliation as in the poem, “Manhattan Man” when the speaker asks:
why do you wear
that handmade Viking helmet
and primitive cloak?
some call you crazy;
or lazy but
tourists want your autograph.
Although the individual man is unknowable, his presence is acknowledged and questioned once he disappears: “your many hours on the street connected you/with the sounds of the city.”// the voices and rhythms/were there for you/ to compose.”// Although the speaker fails to understand the secrets locked in the soul of the man who stood on the corner of 54th street, he pays tribute once the man is gone: “hey moondog, we love you;//your old bones knew/something we didn’t.” Perhaps the old bones understood the true nature of duality.
In Manhattan Man (and Other Poems), dual forces can be subtle or extreme. Duality approaches duplicity in poems like “Memorial Day”: “Where are those who died/Who heard guns,/and rapid bullets?/No prayers for them/Nor any praise,//Only the legacy of silence….” Or duality is reconciled as in “The Chameleon”: “I’m a/ twin, a Gemini of sorts;/one eye looks at the sky;/ another looks at the butterfly.” While the speaker accepts his dual sensibility, he longs for intimacy and permanence: “My Norwegian lovely loves/…her chameleon./… My eyes turn green/in the rainy forest at the central park/zoo; my eyes turn grey// on an overcast day,…// “when my colors change,/ I never cling to anything/ except to her….”
A prismatic sense of duality is accepted in “Phnom Penh,” wherein a panorama of opposites are juxtaposed: “from the airfield, rice paddies/ and a broad avenue of trees, huts, music and cycles//open air stalls/…men praying for peace/…the crowded market” and people quietly going about their day. However, “A Map of My World,” reflects a sad inevitability that underlies efforts to dismiss duality or reconcile opposites: “I wanted to draw you/ a map of my world://…“you took my map/of the world… gave it a spin/…giving me new/moons, shining light in/my dark spaces until/ I surrendered,/ then,/you walked out the door.” Herein, un-reconciled opposites create a dynamic interaction that disappears as one reality is exchanged for another.
Manhattan Man (and Other Poems) offers two perspectives on reality. Some things are knowable; some may never be known or understood. The best that we can do is acknowledge the moment, accept what each moment offers, and then let it go. “Last Will,” portrays a speaker who has learned what it means to accept and appreciate: “yesterday your will was not mine, which was not fine, but today when you slept/on your right side, pillowed by your left arm/with your breathing like a summer wave,/the pennies came from heaven/and my will was no more.” This speaker is far removed from the one portrayed in “To Anita”: “No matter where, /your design is there/and nothing will change, /or everything will change/if you leave me.” “Last Will” is the last poem in this collection by Jack Lynch.
As we follow the speaker through darkness and light, chaos and serenity, fear and hope, we learn to value differences and accept reality on different terms. We learn to accept the prismatic nature of dual forces juxtaposed, and we understand that some things insist on remaining un-reconciled. As we allow ourselves to be guided by words, images and poetic form, we realize how much the speaker has grown, and since we are treading in his footsteps, so too have we:“Speak hollow/ or speak/ dark and deep—// but bend/when the light/enters….”
Margaret H. Johnson is writer, literary critic, and workshop developer now residing in North Carolina. She earned the M.A. Degree in English from the University of Oklahoma and completed doctoral studies in Education: Teaching and Learning at Tennessee State University. She is former Lecturer of English, LaGuardia College, City University of New York, where she created and coordinated the Poetry Roundtable, an open microphone forum for poets within the college and surrounding communities. Her publications include scholarly articles, poetry reviews, and selected poems. Works of poetry and fiction are in progress, and a nonfiction book on how to live a purposeful life one day at a time is in review.