The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 17-JAN 18

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DEC 17-JAN 18 Issue

Gil Fagiani's Logos

Gil Fagiani
(Guernica Editions, 2015)

I’ve always been a fan of poetry that tells a good a story. A human story. When I opened a book of poems I received in the mail the other day, Logos by Gil Fagiani, it didn’t take me long to know I was in the hands of an honest storyteller. If you believe the old axiom of “writing what you know,” then you’ve come to the right place with this collection. Fagiani’s story is an all too common one, the wrong kid (“Connecticut-bred and Hollywood hipp-notized”) caught up in the wrong scene with the “not me” defiance that precludes every addict's historical slide. But the way Fagiani tells his story is anything but common:

First time, I take two toots…
lose my fear, end up making it
with my jailed friend’s wife.
The second time, I skin-pop
almost OD…
I swear I was drunk…
counting on Hollywood’s
music and patter to…
close the hole in my soul

The honesty meter is off the charts in these poems, the junkie’s truth laid out for us, like a rich memoir, the uncomfortable accuracy that defines the life of the addict. Fagiani is one of the lucky ones, alive and recovered and giving us this experience, through his experience, a cautionary tale that reminds the reader of the price paid for another fix and the inevitable landing place for the lucky ones— the halls of a rehab and the truth that comes with coming clean.

My bony ass is sore
from sitting on a wooden bench.
I want to split but remember:
ripping off students’ books
while they sat in the cafeteria,
selling my father’s stamp collection,
OD’ing on a rooftop,
carried down by dopefiends,
arms pinned behind my back,
hands tearing at my wallet,
my shirt, my shoes.

It’s not all desperation however in these unflinching poems. Travelling through this hyperreal world of drug addiction, Fagiani allows us into the recovery process, the nuts and bolts of getting better, the necessary tough love he endures on his road to recovery, like in the poem “The Staff of Life (Georgie)” when he recalls confessing to stealing cookies on a bread run for the group and being “made to wear a crayon-scrawled sign; I’m a thief/ whose stealing jeopardizes/ the very bread/ that feeds my family.” In such poems we can see the breakdown of the self-destructive persistence that makes the addict so resourceful and the window to the humility that precludes the healing process.

The story Fagiani tells is also about redemption, alongside the trials of recovery, the vivid images of drug use and the price the addict has to pay, there are moments of grace that we suspect have cumulatively pulled him through. There is a nurse friend he runs into the poem “Withdrawal” who he has known “for years / she’s from the same seacoast town / in Sicily as my mother/…when it sinks in that I’m a junkie / tears streak her face, they streak mine too.…” These moments are surprising in the midst of so much bitter truth. When they come to us, they come as unexpected rest stops on some long lonesome highway. They appear out of the dark just in time for us to pull over and witness the insight or the understanding that Fagiani has for addicts, their families, and the damage they share.

Counselors talk treatment goals
working together. What she wants is:

no memory of her mother
puking on herself in a police cell,

no memory of her mother
balling tricks in the bed next to her,

no memory of her mother
stabbing a boyfriend over drug money,

no memory of her mother
stiff as a frozen fish in the alleyway.

Fagiani is adept at painting a picture with the hard facts of drug addiction. It’s not pretty, and the recovery from it is messy and difficult. The poet reminds us in spare, direct language, of the inner demons, the guilt-ridden reality that pops beneath the skin. The poetry in this collection is stark and accessible, reflected in the notion that we are fortunate to be witnesses rather than participants. And the poet reminds us in closing that the addict’s life may be a hard, street-wise, survival game but it is not always complicated. There’s a single-mindedness to feeding the addiction, a simplicity that makes recovery all the more challenging, and in the addict’s mind, perhaps less colorful or adventurous. In that, is the final warning, the constant danger of forgetting. With poems such as these, we will never forget.

I miss the simple life:
one goal,
and means.

The guaranteed high
fading fears,
vanishing woes.

Turning the tables
on squares,
hustling the lames.

The luscious lingo:
horse, smack, a cotton shot,
gimmicks, speedball.

The hideout
from straight friends,
family hassles.

The free pass
on paying taxes,
raising brats.

The resurrections:
from detox to rehab,
from jail to bail.

The single standard:
dyno dope trumps
status and class.


Kevin Carey

KEVIN CAREY is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Salem State University. He has published three books– a chapbook of fiction, The Beach People from Red Bird Chapbooks (2014) and two books of poetry from Cavankerry Press, The One Fifteen to Penn Station (2012) and Jesus Was a Homeboy (2016) which was recently selected as an Honor Book for the 2017 Paterson Literary Prize. Two poems from this collection have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Kevin is also a documentary filmmaker. His latest project Unburying Malcolm Miller, premiered at the Mass Poetry Festival on May 5th.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 17-JAN 18

All Issues